Choosing his Reward

Another obedience post since Vito was too cute to not show the world!  

If it's nice out and I'm actually home in the evening instead of teaching classes, I take the dog's dinner outside and do some obedience practice.  Vito is very used to this and ranges from being super excited to train for his meal to being moderately excited.  Overall excitement is much higher at meal time than at any other time so I try and take advantage of it.  I usually just train in the fenced yard but for some reason I wanted to do Vito's session in the larger field.  We've occasionally trained obedience out there so it wasn't completely new to him.  Lucky for me, I had planned on video taping it to evaluate our heeling progress.  For an unknown reason I also decided to video tape exiting through the gate.  I think it was because he usually is so eager to work with me coming out of the gate that I wanted it recorded so I could compile it for part of our year-end video.  I guess I knew there was a ball around the corner but it didn't cross my mind at all that he would abandon his dinner for it.  Our session quickly went in a completely different direction than what I planned on working on!

Vito already had a trained swallow this cookie behavior.  I know, very odd.  But it's come in handy so many times to lower his arousal level and to get his brain thinking instead of just reacting.  After a few courtesy swallows he started to think enough that I could leave his ball on the ground and do some heeling- a behavior he also knows.  And then with some more courtesy swallows his brain started to focus 75% on me and his dinner and only 25% on his ball.  


Prison Bound

Gracie left me today to head to one of our prison programs.  Life behind bars!  I have no doubt she will quickly be in charge on the other side of the fence.  The plan is for her to only be gone for a few weeks until another dog coming in for their final training can be placed down there.  But they needed a dog and Gracie was selected for some new experiences.

Technically Gracie is now 19 months old and is right at the age when we call our program dogs away from their puppy raisers and start evaluating their career choices.  Gracie has already completed her mobility training ages ago and recently finished her diabetic alert training.  She is also still a very immature little girl.  A fact that I don't think will be changing for her, probabally ever!  At this point we are mainly waiting for the right match for Gracie, likely as a diabetic alert dog.  And we are in no hurry.

When she comes back from prison and her time spent showing the inmates what a fun loving labrador can do, the plan is for her to continue living with me until that match is made.  In the meantime, life will be a bit calmer with only 2 dogs and zero meerkats.
Amazing ability to keep her butt on the floor and still cuddle as much as possible.


Vito Obedience Practice

I was just uploading some footage I took today of Vito's training session and came across one I did last month.  It's good to video tape sessions every now and then.  Even if you don't ever look at the footage I find it makes me more conscious of what I'm rewarding and how often.  Actually reviewing the tape is great to help keep you honest on your own skills and of course to see the tiny steps of progress that can occur in the dog's training.

This is the one from a few weeks ago.  Mainly we were working on not forging in heeling, and at the time the behind the back switch to reward was new.  Now he can do a left spin to a behind move!  We also worked on go outs- building distance and going out between the jumps.  You can see how he likes to cheat on the touch and I'm not consistent with it.  And how he archs quite a bit on the sit.  And then a few signals and drop on recalls.  Always needing work on not moving on the down.


Fetch- Now with Rules

I recently started implementing some new rules for the dogs playing fetch.  Miss Gracie loves to plow into dogs when she plays.  At work I refer to her as a Ram as she loves to lower her head and butt into dogs when she has a toy in her mouth.  The other Labradors don't seem to mind and usually she ends up flopping over on her back shortly after and encourages her fellow labs to try and take the ball from her mouth.   She's odd.

But Vito is a lot more fun for her.  He is intense and only has eyes for the toy so Gracie likes to step things up a notch.  Vito runs for toy, Gracie runs for him.  Collision of course is the result.  Honestly neither dog minds as Vito only cares about the B-A-L-L.  But ouch.
Hmm, yes I do have a picture of a tiny slam on a return.  From April, despite it's snowy appearance.

So new rules.  Gracie gets her ball and Vito gets his.  No chasing in the same direction.  The corgi can do what he wants as he usually just barks and runs after a dog for 10-15ft.  He certainly doesn't want a ball of his own.  If Lance gets yelled at it's usually for doing some nipping as a dog returns with the ball.  Naughty corgi.  

I started with Vito always getting his ball thrown first and having Gracie wait.  I use the dog's name as a release cue as I get ready to throw.  She actually learned that rule very quick as Gracie naturally does this when out with the group at work.  She figured out that she has a much greater chance of getting the ball if she waits for the pack to go after a few balls thrown in one direction and then the thrower turns and tosses her own private ball in another direction.  Smart.  She just wasn't doing that at home since Vito was a lot more fun to harass!  

The challenge is to get Vito to come straight back to me versus veering off and having to go to ball #2 on his return.  Because Ball!  I still have to say his name to remind him, but he's doing it now!  

I recently started occasionally throwing Gracie's ball first.  Very hard for Vito and I need to hold his collar on the throw, but I can let go now as long as I show him ball #2 in my hand after the toss.  
Vito never wants to quit.


Vito Behaviorist Recheck- Plan H?

Vito had another 6 month checkup with the veterinary behaviorist.  I can't believe he's been going to see her for 2.5 years now!

Overall picture- Well I think we are long past plan B or even plan C.  Yes, Vito is somehow even worse than he was at our last meeting.  That's a steady decline over the last year.  Which actually is pretty rare for my rollercoaster dog of ups, downs, and complete reversals.
Trials and training for dog sports is still going great.  General life not so much.  The hope I had for our long plan of weaning Vito off of Prozac and onto Amitryryptiline didn't pan out to much.  Zero improvement in any of Vito's anxiety areas.  Some worsening of reactivity and ability to relax at worse, but I don't think it's enough to attribute to the drug vs that's Vito.

Where we're at now:

Praying to Robot
- Car anxiety: Complete panic attacks every 1st car ride of the day.  Usually very calm on subsequent car rides.  Polar opposite dog.  I brought out his Robot a few weeks ago to see if that would help him take treats in the morning.  It did not.  But he loves to pray to it in the afternoon!

- Separation Anxiety: Same as where we were at in December.  Vito will start whining, panting, and howling if left for anything more than 15 minutes now.  It's safe to say we only do this in emergencies now.  It's not like I had a social life any way!

- At work: Continues to be very reactive to people walking by.  Reacts multiple times a day and has a hard time turning off.  In general he is also having 1 or 2 "Bad Days" a week where he just can't calm down.  Major panting and to a non dog savy person he looks "very happy" as the slightest touch will cause him to tuck his butt and start trying to sprint around the room.  Luckily I have some nice co workers who are willing to take him to their cubicle and let him pass out in his exhaustion.  Otherwise he has even started to do some howling when I leave him on those days.  Thankfully not every day is a Bad Day and he will often curl up under my desk and sleep when I'm gone.

New plan includes:
1. Wean off Amitriptyline.  Start Zoloft (Sertraline).  Back to the SSRI family.  Thankfully this is going to be a fairly fast wean and switcheroo.  Weeks instead of months.

2. DAP diffuser at work.  Yes we tried a DAP spray awhile ago for car rides and no it didn't have any effect then.  Hopes are not high for this, but I already have the plug in from our early behavioral work as a puppy.

Toller on a Needy Day at work
3. Give Vito a 3rd dosing of Clonidine before bedtime.  He gets the drug at 6am and 2:30pm now, so it's out of his system at bedtime.  Since he is the perfect bed partner I've found no need to do this before.  But we're hoping that just maybe the AM car ride will be better if his levels stay consistent.

4. Consider putting a signup and having coworkers chuck food at Vito during the day.  A potential concern of mine is that Vito is...special.  He already has a favorite coworker at work that he goes absolutely nuts when she arrives (only x1-2 a week she comes to the office).  Major panting and whining until she lets him go visit her cubicle.  She doesn't actually say Hi to him until he calms down, but it takes a good 10 minutes minimum.  And then he passes out underneath her desk and is a happy calm Toller.  But if he can't go visit because she's in a hurry then his arousal levels stay high and he's more anxious the rest of the day.


Eaten Alive

I was woefully unpreprared for how summer has transformed our little house in the wannabe country.  The bugs are absolutely insane.  Every time I open a door the house or car I make sure that all 3 dogs are lined up behind me so that we can sprint in or out as fast as possible to cut down on the intruders.  Even when I try and leave to go to work I'm inviting at least 10 mosquitoes to hitchhike.  This week I even needed to get bug spray for my mailbox.  My mailbox!  Ants took over for reasons I can't even imagine.

But look, agility!

I was a little worried that playing agility at home might not be as special for Vito and that we would have to work on some motivation issues.  Totally not the case.  If anything Vito is even louder and more excited about the opportunity to go play on the little equipment that I have.  Going through the gate is highly valuable for him.  And apparently for Gracie.  I think she's experimenting with some Toller Screams while Vito gets his turn.


Dealing with Failures

Today's Agility Blog Action Day is on success. I'm sure most people reading this agree that success is not purely defined by the all mighty Q. We all love our dogs and we typically play in our sports because we enjoy the time spent developing a working relationship. Trialing and qualifying is such a small part of our lives.  But if you are trialing with your dog than you're clearing hoping for success on course.  Most of us aren't relying on the Miracle Method!  For some of our dogs, success in any traditional manner is hard. Whether you're dealing with anxiety concerns or over arousal issues, trialing can be very difficult.

We learn how to measure success with the little things.  Things like happy start lines.  Trials where Vito didn't go around any jumps filled me with hope.  And a faster than usual YPS can send me over the moon.  But then there are the trials where it seemed there was no improvement and little things were harder to find.  Sad Toller appearances on many courses.  There was a period where I wasn't sure if trialing with Vito in agility would continue for much longer.  We never got to that point where I felt Vito was saying No, but we were close.

Trial Toller.  This is 1 year ago and was pretty typical.  Not bad.  But not anywhere near the confident and sassy dog I have in practice.  Success in that our start line bark routine made a big difference from the sometimes sniffy and judge/steward visiting dog of 2011-2012.

And then there's this run a few months ago which could be a huge failure for some as he took a few "off courses" from my plan and didn't get the gamble.  But this run is one of my favorites of all time.

What helped during those "failure" stretches was to just look at everything as feedback.  As long as we were having fun in practice then I was motivated to make it work in a trial.  Trials had to be just another yard stick and nothing more.  It wasn't easy but I can be stubborn.  Learning to relax and accept Trial Vito as long as it looked like he was still happy.  And then work really hard in practice to try and improve.

For some dogs, trialing in different organizations can be a huge help.  Some organizations allow training in the ring and if you can find a UKI trial in your area you can even bring in a toy. Different styles of courses from wide open and flowy to tight and collected might help build confidence or work on handler focus.

We're still on this long journey.  These days we have many more successful runs than not.  Maybe not if you look at our Q rate, but lots more Happy Toller moments.  My advice is to breathe, have lots of chocolate, and patiently stick with your work in practice.  Just tell yourself that this dog still has more to teach you.


Another outdoor trial!

An interesting weekend of USDAA agility for Vito and I.  Ups and downs on both ends of the leash.

Gamblers- A happy dork!  Vito was flying.  Broke his start line and did a 1 hit superman style on the aframe descent and then happily crossed behind me to enter the "wrong" end of the tunnel I was directing him to.  Did the teeter very fast for a trial and then I'm not sure if he either started to self release before I told him or if he kinda slipped, but Vito felt very strongly that he should try and push the end back down so he could get back on it and do his 2o2o again.  This fun adventures causes us both to be stupid and miss the weave entrance as my next planned obstacle and Vito slowed down a little bit in speed.  The gamble was a hard one for Vito but he gave it his best try.

Standard- Much more cautious Vito on the aframe and teeter.  Overall the run was back to "normal" Trial Toller and we qualified without much to say about it.

Steeplechase- I optimistically attached his new Kong Squeeze ball to his tug leash.  Vito seemed very happy about this arrangement until I had to put it near him on the start line.  Very Sad Toller was conflicted when I released him, knew he wasn't supposed to have his toy, and went around the first obstacle.  Kind've picked up some speed but mainly we dropped a lot of bars, went off course into a tunnel, and then my brain fell out as well as I couldn't remember where to turn for the ending.  A disaster type of run on both ends.

Pairs- Very happy Toller was back and screaming loudly for the first time all day!  Knocked the first bar and was much faster than I anticipated.  I somehow forgot the course for a full second to the point that I was actually going in the wrong direction for 2 steps and had to turn back.  Vito didn't care and happily redirected and even did a rear cross!  I then continued to lack a brain and gave his Run cue for the dogwalk instead of his Stop cue and Vito went happily running straight off to the inviting jump instead of doing the flip to the tunnel as the course directed.  So sorry pairs partner :(  Maybe the heat was effecting me more than I thought!

The day was much cooler with some light rain off and on.  Vito was in very high spirits all day!

Snooker- Very happy Toller.  Our plan was 7-7-5 and it involved lots of tunnels and a short set of 6 weaves for the #7 option.  A perfect Vito course!  I underestimated how much the long, but straight, line from our last color to starting the closing and to #3 would put him in obstacle mode and he took a bonus red jump on our way.

Pairs- Another loud and happy Toller!  I used our stop Dogwalk cue to be safe this time (and actually remembered to use the right cue) to steer him off the straight exit and in the correct turned option.  Vito was moving decently fast through the course but knocked 2 bars.  Somehow our pair still manged to make time with the faults and we actually qualified.

Standard- A Vito course!  Slowish weaves and teeter, but otherwise moving well and happy.  His time was actually much closer to the fast dogs than usual!  It actually was his fastest YPS run in USDAA standard ever at 4.7!)

Gamblers- More happiness!  I apparently did a poor job of calculating our opening time as the buzzer went off a good 2-3 seconds before I planned and I was not prepared.  Another hard gamble for Vito but we had a chance.  Unfortunately Vito somehow turned the wrong way after jump #1 and so I had to immediately cross the line to help him.

Overall a nice weekend once Vito got started and once I really committed to memorizing the courses.  I always love outdoor trials!

I think Vito would really benefit from the jackpot style training I started doing with him many months ago but got lazy and stopped.  He understands it in the sense that I was successfully able to tease him with his ball at the trial, show him where I leave it, and then run to the line.  I can always tell when he's thinking about the toy as he runs faster and is very obvious about wanting to pull to it immediately on exiting.  But if it's too close to the ring than he gets conflicted and apparently gets really sad if it's next to him like our leash fiasco in steeplechase!  In obedience we've done quite a bit of jackpot style work and it's helped immensely.  I am optimistic that a similar approach can be helpful in unlocking his attitude and speed in trial settings.

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