Happy 7th Birthday/Halloween!

Happy 7th birthday to Vito!

Vito at 9 months old

Tomorrow Vito gets to play at an agility seminar!  Today kinda sucked for him since I was auditing, but hopefully tomorrow will make up for it.

And Happy Halloween to everybody!  Had to recycle costumes this year, but Zumi fit exactly into Fiona's halloween costume so we went back to the Alice in Wonderland theme!  Vito looks so much older than 4 years ago!


Replicating Trial Issues

At the last obedience trial I had the opportunity to talk to a few exhibitors who asked me for advice on fixing some problems.

One of the exhibitors had a problem on her retrieves and she was also having the same problems during practice unless she managed it by having the dog on leash.  I'm not sure what miracle method people expect to happen if you consistently need to do something in training in order to get the behavior!  Positive trainers are definitely not exempt, as I know many people who need to have the food on their body in order for the dog to do the behavior!

So first take an honest look at your training and ask yourself if you are doing something to mask the issue in practice.  Can the dog do it correctly the first time you ask?  Can the dog do it if you are being formal like in a ring?

If you find you are masking the issue in practice, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to stop trialing. That depends on your goals and your realistic expectations.  I know that even in practice Lance might start to turn and sit before he touches the gate on a go out. He doesn't do it often, but it shows up enough that it is something we regularly work on and do lots of proofing with.  I also know that in a trial this tendency will be exaggerated and thus when Lance starts to turn before I cue a sit I can't be surprised or upset.  I can cue him to "touch" again though if I want to be consistent and try to save it from increasingly happening in future runs!

If you are not seeing your issue in practice and it only shows up in trials there can be a few reasons.
- *Stress, from the dog or human
- Differences in arousal
- Formality
- Anticipation, dog knows the routine
- Pressure from the judge or stewards
- Reliance on rewards

If you have hope of fixing the issue in the ring you need to find some way to replicate the issue in practice.  I put a * by stress because often if it is purely a stress issue and if you find a way to reduce the stress then the issue goes away.  And I would venture to say that most trial only issues are stress related.  But reducing stress can be hard, thus my Ring Confidence classes.  If the stress is limited to a single exercise and you're only seeing that stress in trials, I still focus in trying to replicate the issue in practice and teaching the dog how to work through it.

I find that a lot of people don't try hard enough to uncover the issue in practice.  I can often get the exercise to fail after just poking a few tiny holes.

Dog anticipates in trials?  Try doing that portion of the exercise several times in a row.  The dog who likes to drop before being cued on the DOR might need practice with come-down repeated with the down in the exact same place each time.  It's a very solid dog who doesn't start to lie down in that spot when you finally don't ask for it!  You often don't need to do the exercise in it's completion to replicate the issue.  Repeated cookie toss-downs often work just as well!
Just don't avoid repetition if you have an anticipation issue.  Never doing the drop in practice is a very weak band aid!

Dog becomes grabby on scent articles only in trials?  Try adding lots of arousal to your practice.  Here you can see the boys successfully doing articles with high arousal.

And then here is Vito when I used a ball as a reward.  I was wrong and he was not ready for this!  You can tell how the extreme arousal totally causes both the inability to make a choice and then just grabbing.  I will have to work through this issue more gradually, likely by having the ball off my body and at a greater distance. (Ball send begins at 55sec)

Perhaps the issue is the opposite and the dog is in too low of arousal in trials on say the signal exercise.  Can your dog do signals just around the house when they're tired and not expecting it?

If the issue is one of formality, do you practice long pauses in your practice?  It might be that you are doing your signals immediately vs pausing and waiting the time it takes for the judge to signal.   Or simply breaking eye contact with your dog to look at the judge is enough to cause the issue to occur.

Dog not wanting to front in a trial?  Try adding people pressure of a judge standing close to check your front. No helpers?  Substitute a high valued reward just behind the dog that is hard for the dog to keep their back to.

You can see how there are many ways to add proofing to try to unearth the cause of your dog's trial issues.  In all of it, make sure that while you are trying to replicate the issue, the goal is to still to increase your dog's confidence with the exercise.  It's less about "gotcha" and more about Dr. Seuss "Can you do it when__________?"  It's a fine line between building their confidence and tearing it down.

When in doubt I often reward the dog for their mistake!  A mistake just gives me information about where they are at.  By rewarding the dog for continuing to try I avoid adding continual stress onto the problem area.  The dogs easily differentiate between my "pity cookie" and my very excited rewarding for actually doing it correct.


Agility with an Audience

Zumi got to do agility in public yesterday!  Her 2nd time doing agility in front of other people, the first being at a seminar when she was 8 months old.  This was also the first time she did agility at this location, and her first time on turf carpet.

I was so proud of her focus!  The first run I used a tug toy to ensure she wouldn't do a victory lap.  I kinda let Zumi do little victory laps at home so I wouldn't have been surprised or upset if she did one.  But the 2nd run I even threw her ball and she came right back to me each time!

I discovered I haven't actually taught Zumi the tire.  She did the tire in that little puppy agility class I briefly had her in when she was like 4 months old, but no jumping was involved then and she hasn't done it since.

Zumi kinda remembered the auto down on the table!  Another thing I only practice with her every few months as I don't have a table at home.

And she even did the dogwalk!  This will be the 3rd dogwalk she's ever been on.  The one at my house, the 2nd at the club she just started doing these last 3 weeks since she has been at full height, and now #3.  The first run she came off it on the upside to chase after me.  I put her back on and she did hit the yellow, but it was fairly high and I don't think it would have been in on a USDAA 36" zone.  In run #2 it was much lower and was easily in, although still not quite the criteria I want.  Still, I thought her first time at a new location went fantastic!

My handling not the greatest.  I haven't actually gotten to "run" Zumi yet on a full course setup.  Even with breaking down and rewarding lots I'm just not used to doing a course with her.
Run #1:  https://youtu.be/AeWul8ahT28
Run #2:

Vito also got to play for 2 runs at the match.  I handled it like the UKI trials I've done FEO at.  Warm up with one toy, set it down outside the ring like at a real trial, and have a hidden ball in my pocket he doesn't know about.

First run- happy toller!  Rewarded him after the teeter which was actually pretty decent for a "trial" teeter.  Then redid the teeter and it was magically the teeter I get in practice- fast and immediately into the 2o2o position.
Then did a stopped dogwalk with him as I hardly ever do that in a trial and it isn't very fast when I do.  Because he already got a toy the stopped dogwalk was the same I get in practice :)

2nd run had a fast teeter I verbally praised but didn't reward.  Then I rewarded the stopped dogwalk again.  And finally I chose to do the dogwalk a 2nd time, but as a running dogwalk.  Awesome!  First time he has done both running and stopped in the same sequence outside of practice!

Glad Vito got to play.  Never enough opportunity to reward him with toys for doing agility in public!

Oh and you guys are killing me with the zero comments to Vito's experiment!  Seriously?  No one has any words of encouragement or expressions of confusion?

I don't know if I clearly stated that this experiment will be limited to obedience only.  Vito will still get toys in agility for 3 reasons.
1) Agility runs are short enough that there is zero reason to really fade the reward.
2) Agility is all about speed.  There is no way I will ever get the same drive and speed without external rewards, in agility and in obedience.  And since Vito doesn't naturally love to just run, the difference in his speed would be huge, although the process would still be easier in agility versus obedience.
3) Little to gain.  Nothing to gain really from my perspective.  Agility is postively trained already and most trainers do not have a huge problem getting what they have in practice to what they have in trials.  The differences that do exist are more so due to arousal differences than the lack of reward, for most dogs anyway.


The Experiment Begins

Thanks to Denise Fenzi and 2 other people on the Fenzi alumni group, I am re-inspired to begin my no food/toys experiment with Vito.  I have absolutely nothing to lose with Vito, especially considering his recent meltdown in AKC and going back into retirement.

For those who are confused right now, the basis is that I will be taking away all food and all toys in our obedience training for the next 6 months? year??? forever?
The goal is not to gradually fade reinforcers.  Not to see how long a behavior itself can be a reward for another behavior.  The goal is to see if a dog will CHOOSE to work when they KNOW the only reward available is me.

Why?  Because clearly I'm a glutton for punishment.  It is not necessary to do this in order to be successful in the obedience ring.  All dogs if you trial long enough, and usually it doesn't take that long, will learn there is never any food, toys, (or corrections) in the ring.  You might be able to trick your dog into thinking you still have food on you for a little while.  And if you do a lot of matches or CDSP trials it may even hold up.  But good trainers don't trick their dogs.  They systematically teach their dogs how to deal with the formality that trials have.  How to handle working long stretches of time without reinforcement.  How to smoothly transition between exercises.  And usually have some sort of jackpot system, with the reward off their body and out of sight.

What I am fascinated with is the process of building up the value of the working relationship.  The value of personal play.  And if successful, then trials become no different than practice.  There is only you and your dog, no external rewards, and no hope of getting them.  Some "balanced" trainers do this.  But what I am interested in is finding a way to successfully accomplish this when the dog always has a choice.  The choice to say no and stop training at any time without consequence.  Is there a way to trump the value of you over the environment and have your behaviors hold up?

Many positive trainers would say no, at least initially.  Behaviors are reinforced through food, toys, and reinforcement rate is gradually diminished.  If behaviors start to diminish you look at where you've been putting value recently.  Recently the value of personal play has been talked about a lot on R+ obedience groups and people are starting to use it a lot more.  Not many trainers silently hand over a cookie anymore or toss their toy without also inserting themselves in the process!

But personal play is still paired a lot with external rewards.  And it's hard to know just how reinforcing personal play can be if you're always backing it up with another reward.  Take tugging for example.  Most trainers don't tug with their puppy in exchange for food anymore as they find it's not needed.  With good toy mechanics, dogs quickly discover how much they love to stalk, chase, pounce, and even kill the toy.  And dogs will love different parts of those sequences  with some dogs preferring the chase and never want to actually bite and some loving that kill.  Dogs who tug for food look very different than those who tug for the sake of tugging.  A few dogs will start to cross over and love tugging even if it's never paired with food again, any my guess would be those dogs just needed food to get them started but quickly discovered how much fun it is on their own.  And even with good toy mechanics there will be some dogs who value tugging very little.  That's ok.

I suspect that just like some dogs value toy play more than others, there are dogs who naturally value personal play.  Those dogs will be easier!  But I don't want to shy away from dogs who don't seem to hold high value to personal play.  The more you use a reinforcer the more you develop it.  Many dogs find food from their food dish way higher value than the same type of food just handed over to them.  Dogs practice eating out of their bowl twice a day, every day, in most families.  I don't think we spend nearly enough time trying to develop the value for play itself.

So this process is seeing just how valuable can we make personal play.  No tricking the dog into believing food/toys will come.  Just giving the dogs a chance to make a choice- play our game or not.
And at first the process will be very, very painful.  Mainly for me.

The first stage will be Hope.  Vito will keep playing with me because he hopes the reward is coming.  He doesn't see the reward until he chooses to work as it is, so he just won't know if I'm working on a very long behavior chain.  I will see an increase in some frustration behaviors, likely more barking.

But then will come stage 2, Disappointment.  Actually punishment.  If you were to give me a Kit Kat every time I took out the trash and then you suddenly didn't, I would feel cheated.  Even if I knew the chocolate wasn't anything more than a way of saying thank you I would still feel upset.  It's not just about not getting a reward, it's about that feeling of loss as I compare it to my expectations.
I fully expect Vito to check out.  To choose to eat the lovely grass in the yard versus playing with me.  And I will let him.

And we will then see what happens in the long term.  Maybe nothing.  Maybe unicorns and rainbows.
Lance made this experiment extremely easy.  Lance loves to work and while he felt the loss of food, the chance to keep playing with me still trumped other choices.  Vito will be harder.  But there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from this knowledge.  I expect that 10 years from now, positive training is going to look very, very different.

If you are interested in playing along I would highly recommend already having a solid foundation in many obedience behaviors with the dog choosing to work without seeing the reward up front.  An attitude of curiosity and caring more about the process than the results will also be necessary as a positive trained route to this path is still in the experimental process.  But this is me publicly committing myself to this process.  I just wish winter wasn't on its way.


Stand Proofing

I was recently asked if I would teach a Stand for Exam class for the Fenzi Academy so I've been working on getting some of the proofs I do with my dogs on video.  It was actually perfect timing as Zumi has hard hardly any proofing on her stand stay and Lance could certainly use some review as he has recently started taking a step to meet the judge.

Zumi got to work back feet on the balance disc while I gently pushed on her sides and rewarded her for locking up her feet.
Lance worked on an advanced proof where I let him, and encourage him, to eat a cookie I pull further and further away from him as long as he doesn't move a foot.  Very hard to do and I really have to encourage him to try!

Class will hopefully start December 1st and will work on all aspects of stands at the novice and utility level.  While a helper will be needed to work through parts of the exam, you can do much stuff without another person!  In some ways not having as much access to helpers forces me to really make the stay portion so solid that an approaching judge is just one more proof!


Day 2

Day 2 of my club's obedience trial.

The Corgi is such a good dog.  So engaged with me.  So happy.
Nailed all the exercises again for another Q in utility!  I thought he worked even better today than yesterday.  Better glove pivot.  No dropping of the glove.  Much better fronts on most of them.

Directed jumping killed us in the points though.  No sit on the 1st send, plus a bark on the first jump, and ticked the first jump.  Then the judge said I leaned when I signaled jump #2.  I have no reason to doubt the judge but I have never been told that before!

Other naughty corgi things included
- moving feet to meet the judge for her exam. Worse than yesterday
- Moving a bit after I left him on the signals (I of course didn't see it so don't know how bad)

The day did go better for Vito.  No panic attacks.  A little bit whiney in his crate, but overall very calm and relaxed.

I debated about going into the ring with Vito.  I had a very different dog then yesterday.  He was super calm.  A little slow to choose to warm up with me, but then turned on nicely and gave me hope.
Hope that started to crash when I entered the ring and Vito again fixated on the judge.

Drop on recall was first and it was difficult getting Vito to setup, didn't even want to run with me to the spot.  Vito slowed down when I cued the drop but he just couldn't do it.

Heeling was laggy and I gave Vito another cue after the first turn.  Slowly picked up and actually didn't that bad on the rest of the pattern.  Was even able to jump up on me at the finish.
Figure 8 was worse.  Much more lagging and stealing glances at the judge.

Retrieve over high lacked energy.  Ticked the jump.  Then thought about going up to the judge on the return so I called him.
Broad jump again had an attempt at visiting the judge, another call from me.

I skipped the stays again.

Vito will be taking another long break from AKC trials.  We will see if Vito decides it's ok to try it again someday.


Vito's Meltdown

My club's annual obedience trial is this weekend.  Vito entered in Open B for his 2nd attempt and Lance in Utility B.

Let's start with the good news, the Corgi.  Lance did his signals!  With zero stress as he sassily barked at me on the sit cue after doing his beautiful down. Other major points lost were for dropping the glove as he does the pickup so happily and fast it just slips out of his mouth- a common problem with Lance.
We were also hit hard for forging which I didn't really see.  And of course fronts.

And now the bad news.  Vito didn't get his drugs on time in the morning due to Daddy not setting his alarm.  Very anxious car ride.  Seemed OK at the trial, just a little bit stressing high.  Nothing horrible.  Ring entrance not the greatest as soon as he saw the judge.  But he did come with me to the setup spot nicely.  More fixation on the judge who had to come give me back my dumbbell for the retrieve as the first exercise.  I ended up telling Vito to stay and taking a few steps to meet her.

Retrieve on the flat was a very high Toller and he needed a 2nd command to retrieve since he was still thinking about the judge.  Knocked it with his feet.  And then jumped up on the judge after she came up to re-take the dumbbell from us.  Still not that bad and I chose to heel him down to the drop on recall spot as I thought he needed the focus work.

Pretty good setup for the drop on recall with only 1 glance to the judge!  Came in like a rocket and actually did down, yay!  Thought about fronting, but just couldn't do it so went to heel.  I was a good handler and told Vito to stay as I knew he couldn't handle the judge approaching to give us back the dumbbell.

More complete fixation on the judge as we setup for the retrieve over the high.  I actually tried to throw it as far away from the judge as possible, but my aim isn't that great so it was still fairly close to her.  When release he shot straight at her and punched her hard.  I called Vito to me and called it.
It was certainly not going to get better.

The run itself makes me a bit sad but that wasn't the worse.  Upon leaving the ring Vito was insane.  Started panting very hard and just could not calm down.  I went to a corner and had him do his "sad" trick of chin rest to the floor to see if that could get him to relax.  It didn't.  Took him outside and unfortunately someone had their dog off leash and was throwing a ball.  Vito got even higher. (And then I had to approach and tell the person to put their dog back on leash as I was trial chair and it was an AKC trial).  Back inside Vito was still panting hard and started trembling.  I had him out a good 20min, maybe 30min and he was still insane.  Refused to go into his crate.  I wanted to cry.  I called Adam to have him drive over and pick Vito up as Vito was just having a huge meltdown.  But then I had to take Lance into the ring so literally shoved Vito in the crate and grabbed the corgi.  Vito was just starting to calm down when Adam arrived to take him home.

Vito had to come back later to the show as Adam had to go to work and Vito can't be left alone.  Vito arrived very calmly and remained calm for the rest of the show.
No idea why he was in such a panic earlier today.
Vito getting worried in the ring, nothing new.  Vito freaking out on trial grounds, very unlike him.  Vito is always super relaxed at dog shows, even more relaxed then he is at work with me!

Fingers are crossed that Vito is a sane dog tomorrow.  He will be getting his drugs on time so hopefully that will help.  And maybe, just maybe, we will actually try showing again.


Full Height!

Wimped out today and turned on the heat.  Sadness.  And the clock continues to tick on outdoor training time.

Zumi progressed to a full height dogwalk recently and is continuing to do really well!  Even added a tunnel under the dogwalk without any issue.  Today's session was very odd though with her striding.  She was much more comfortable the last 2 sessions than today, but cool to see how hard she's trying to hit nicely.

Remaining dogwalk checklist includes:

  1. Fading the toy she currently watches being tossed after a hoop about 20ft past the end of the dogwalk.  At one point I was sending Zumi to a tunnel afterwards and then throwing the ball and that wasn't a problem so I'm not expecting too much difficulty with throwing the toy after she does the obstacle.
  2. Better turns.  Turn training isn't as great as I want her to hit right now.  But still x1000 better than Vito.
  3. Actually listening to verbal cues of go vs left/right.  I expect major difficulties with this.  Right now the ball tells her where to go and if she forgets I threw the ball to the left/right she goes straight despite my body language and verbal pleading to turn.
  4. Tunnel/Dogwalk discrimination.  Right now she defaults strongly to dogwalk which is helpful.  But even if I'm physically in the way she does not want to go in the tunnel.

I started the aframe this past weekend.  Quickly raised from 3ft to 5ft.  Even with less than 2 feet of starting room she was sailing over the apex raise to crazy.  Today I gave her about 5ft of room to start.  I have no plans to move it higher than 5ft for quite awhile.  Zumi had her 3rd lesson today and is still unsure of how to use her body on it.  First send terrifying 1 hit on the entire aframe.  And then it rightfully scared her so she was much more thoughtful after that.


CDSP Trial- Signal Test

CDSP obedience trial for the boys!  Such great timing being a week before the next AKC show.  Fingers were crossed that all the work put into Lance's down signal would pay off.  My plan was for a missed signal to give him a verbal, then immediately praise and call him into me, and give him a treat.

Turns out I didn't need to do that! Lance was entered in utility twice and did all his signals both times!  I even made sure not to give him any treats in the ring until after the signal exercise to try and replicate more AKC trial like.  The first trial signals were last so we did the whole things sans treats.  Trial two I think they were 3rd.

Of course Lance still had to fail somethings, so this show he picked gloves.  There are 2 glove sends in CDSP for a total of 4 sends in the two shows.  Send #1 Lance didn't go so I needed a 2nd command.  Send #3 Lance marked glove #1 and then shot off to get glove #2.  Send #4 Lance thought about doing the same (I asked the judge to give me #1 again), but veered back and was a good little corgi.

Many great things though!  Lance did 4 lovely go outs, and even physically touched the stanchion on 3 of the 4 sends (No way I wanted to stop him "short" in CDSP!).  Fingers are crossed he remembers that next week.
No moving on either exam.
Very nice glove pivots, no cheating and not wanting to pivot all the way!
Only other crap thing was fronts.  Very little effort given on most of them.

The Toller was entered in utility C for the 2nd trial only.  Very excited in our warmup and really had amazing focus and drive.  And then we withered a bit as I looked at the clock and we were waiting for a solid 15 minutes before called in.  Vito was the first dog of trial 2 and several times it looked like we were starting, and then we weren't.  No one's fault, just the wrong dog to have it happen to.

So our squish and subsequent ring entrance had a lot less drive than the practice squishes I had done while waiting.  Still good focus though!
Vito wasn't a fan of the steward table being right by the go out, articles, and start of the moving stand.  But worked through it well.
Go outs were first which I find very hard for new utility dogs.  Vito actually did a very nice job on both but his 2nd go out was way more confident and speedier than the first one.
Moving stand was very nice with a much better stop than the corgi :)
Gloves he also failed the first send like the Corgi.  Unlike the corgi I don't think Vito ever saw the correct article and I kicked myself for not holding the mark a bit longer.
Signals had some nice heeling as well.  And then he froze on the down signal.  Not unexpected for green utility dogs.  Odd though that when I gave a verbal Vito still sat.
Articles were nice!  I had to think about what method to send him with as I hardly ever practice formal sends.  Chose to send after a sit to make sure he knew where the pile was.


Zumi 12 Month Video

Zumi has a 12 month video!  Love this girl.


Happy Birthday Zumi!

Happy 1st birthday to my little Duck!  


More Signal Proofing

Still trying to find ways to replicate Lance's down signal issue.  Mostly I'm failing, but sometimes I get Lance to fail!
Here are some of the ways I've tried to both test Lance's understanding of the down and understanding of remain in a stand until cued to down.

- Food in front of him

-Food under his chest
- Food on his paws

- Waving a bag of food in my other hand
- Between a helper's legs
- A helper touching him
- Standing underneath Vito
- In between me dancing erratically.
- Suddenly dropping my chin to my chest and closing my eyes

This weekend we have a CDSP trial where I will get to see if Lance is truly back to being "fixed" and then next weekend is another AKC trial.  Fingers are crossed.


Happy Dance!

Happy Dance!  I get to brag on the Toller who had a USDAA trial this weekend and did a very nice job!

Happy Toller was even breaking start lines!  And Vito knocked only 1 bar in all 8 runs.

Saturday had a very, very close gamble!  An extremely spunky and weird off course fiasco in Grand Prix along with the knocked bar.  A clean standard run, and all my blame in Snooker where I turned too early trying to do a Japanese turn.  I could have handled the threadle with a normal push but Vito loves his blind crosses!

Sunday Vito was on fire.  Partly do to throwing up his drugs in the morning.  Vito stresses up without his medication and he was a little insane for the first 2 jumpers runs of the day!  Fancy Jumpers was clean and for the first time ever he made time in that event!  Biathlon has tighter times than the other events so we've never made it before, but Vito was just over 5YPS!

In normal jumpers Vito decided he didn't know how to pull in from the wrong end of the tunnel.  But was just as happy and fast!  And Fancy Standard Vito had a great time as well.  Normal standard Vito again couldn't pull in to the correct end of the tunnel and was just a little slower overall.

The Biathlon runs!

To do list includes
- Actually doing an automatic down on the table vs standing and barking at me before lying down on the 2nd command.
- Pulling to me and to the farther end of the tunnel!
- Dogwalk contacts kinda sucked all weekend except for his last standard run on Saturday. :(

Sadly I think that's the last local USDAA trial of the year since Vito missed all the other ones this summer.  There is a NADAC trial coming up in October that I'm not yet sure if I want to go to.  Not the same without the Corgi.


Zumi Agility Training

Zumi and I are enjoying taking Silvia Trkman's online foundation class right now.  Very good to work things other than her running dogwalk these last 6 weeks.  Only half way through class but with frost already on the ground in the morning, I know we don't have much time left to practice before practice at home is impossible.

Last lesson was working extension to collection:

And now I'm primarily going to be focusing on her running dogwalk again.  If possible, I really want to get it to full height before the snow hits and all contact training postponed till next May.  I can get Zumi into her first agility class this winter but I won't actually be able to train contacts in a class. And all classes I could get her in need full height contacts.  I can skip obstacles and reward as often as needed, but I really don't want to skip half of class all winter!
Getting close though!

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