Category Archives: Problem Solving

Carting with Epic – May 5/19

Today, while beginning to unload some firewood from Sean’s truck, I had a moment of brilliance/insanity. Is there a word for an idea that has equal potential for wild success or epic disaster? A Schrödinger’s idea, maybe?

My idea was to the Epic with some weight in the cart (firewood) to see if I could use her tendency to lean in to pressure to help us make progress.

I loaded up the cart with some fire wood and, like last time, began clicking and rewarding with food for any weight shift or movement forward. What was really interesting, was that the pressure of the weight distributed through the harness did not seem to help us move faster, but it did help Epic relax enough to actually open her mouth!

I can hear a few people saying “Yes, her mouth is open, but it looks like she is stress-panting.” You’d be correct, which is why we worked for exactly 5 minutes and then unhooked her. Overall, i think the weight was a goid idea and so.ething we’ll use next time. 

Bit by bit, I think we’ll get there.

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Carting with Epic – April 19/17 (VIDEO)

Since I posted about Epic being worried about our cart this past Monday, I’ve been mulling over how I might approach our next session to encourage her out of her cart induced paralysis. Today, I decided to use her supper as a reward instead of the yummy soft treats I use at agility class. She loves those soft treats but, if it was a contest of treats vs. supper, she’d choose the bowl – Any day! Of course, feeding a dog raw food, certainly complicates things when it comes to using meals for training rewards.

I could just bite the bullet and use my hands to feed her mouthfuls of food, but I’ve tried that and…GROSS! Instead, I feed Epic mouthfuls of food from a spoon. Yes, that’s right, my princess eats off a spoon. I’m pretty sure her breeder taught her that in the whelping box.

One spoonful at a time, we were able to move across the yard getting 1-2 steps per ‘spoon’. This was a HUGE improvement from Monday when there was a lot of standing, a lot of stretching and very little movement.

Here’s a short video, showing part of today’s session is below.

One thing I’ve noticed in the video is that I really need to take a look at the cart shafts and make sure to place them further forward in their loops on the harness. Placed further forward, they won’t be poking her in the shoulder and that, in turn, may make her feel more comfortable.

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To Cue, or not to Cue?

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of training dilemma, followed by a training epiphany, followed of course, by a new training dilemma.

Training Dilemma #1

Epic and I have been working a lot on heeling lately for rally trials. Occasionally Epic will drift a tiny bit. Sometimes it’s a forge, sometimes a lag, it doesn’t seem to be consistent. I want to help her and so I say “Here Epic!”. This causes Epic to come to me, and then drift away almost instantly scanning the room. This part is consistent enough that I know it’s something she’s learned but I’ve been struggling with where the communication breakdown is.

Epiphany!

After watching some video, I finally realized that “Here” is the cue I use to indicate there is food on offer and I’m going to throw it for her to snatch out of the air, or to chase along the floor. I have used this cue consistently since we started training. So consistently, in fact, that I can go to video of myself with 4 month old Epic and hear myself use it. To Epic, the cue I have been using does not actually mean what I want it to mean, which is “Pay attention,  something exciting is going to happen!” To Epic, “Here” means, “Pay attention because you are going to have to chase something soon, and you better be ready to catch it”. OOPSIE!

word meme

Training Dilemma #2

After some thought, I came up with a potential solution. In order to rectify the cue confusion, all I need is another word that means, “pay attention come to me, something exciting is going to happen”. Simple right?

WRONG!

Removing one word from my nervous chatty vocabulary is going to be really hard for me. I have major brain/mouth disconnect when handling either dog. I see something happen and plan to adjust my handling by spitting out an appropriate cue. Ninety per cent of the time, a different cue comes out or I spend so much time thinking about what I’m going to say that I spit the correct cue out at the wrong time, usually too late!

*Silent Scream*

As I write this, I wonder if it’s a nerves thing or if it’s some kind of processing disorder. Regardless, retraining my mouth is going to be really, really, REALLY hard. Like impossible hard. Or rather, impossible hard unless I break down learning to say the new word behaviour into tiny bits, much like I break down behaviours for any of my students, human, or canine. Right now, I’m looking at a three step process.

  1. Stop saying the old word when the behaviour occurs.
  2. Teach Epic the new cue outside of the heeling context.
  3. Learn to say the new word at the right time.

After some more thought, I realise that going through the process of teaching her this cue is going to be a lot of work, even if I work on steps one and two simultaneously.

I also realise that a “pay attention” cue is really useful and something I should teach Epic, but using the cue is going to cost us a lot of points in the CARO rally ring (and eventually the obedience ring), even if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances.

Especially if I save it for The Most Dire of Circumstances! If she’s so far gone in the ring that I need to use my cue once, I could live with it. Right now I can see myself needing it a few times and herein lies the problem: Teaching a new “pay attention and come to me” cue, to use when I find Epic is out of heel position, will do absolutely nothing to teach Epic to maintain heel position.

What is a blabber mouth trainer to do?

In the end I have decided to just stop ‘helping’ Epic with the extra cues if she drifts. That’s right. I’m shutting the hell up! If you know me at all, you know how hard this is going to be.

Instead, I am focusing on giving her as much positive reinforcement as I can when she is with me, in position. This means a click and a food, toy or play reward. Drifting means no cues, no begging, no pleading, no opportunity for reward. Sometimes I stop moving when she drifts, sometimes I take my cookies and “go home” by ending the session and thinking about how I can help her be more successful next time.

We’ve been working on this consciously for a couple of weeks and in practice I think this is really helping. In a “real life” scenario like the rally trial we attended last weekend, still revert back to the wrong cues and they were not helpful, as to be expected. Fortunately, they were not horribly hurtful. We did qualify once, but the second run, I was so nervous that I asked Epic for a wrong station. In over 100 runs, I have never once made that mistake once with Bear, but it’s not a surprising error when I consider hard I was focusing on trying to NOT use the useless cues. We have a few months before our next trial and now I know that I still have some work to do achieving fluency with my own behaviour (shutting up) as well as Epic’s (staying in position). Stay tuned for updates!

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Filed under Problem Solving, Rally-O, Training, Trials and Tribulations

Pupdate – May 2014 Dog Shows

After our last dog show, I resolved to do something about how Epic appears in profile, so back to conformation handling classes we went. What I learned is that if I hold Epic’s head up by her collar just a bit, and lover the bait to almost my knees, it improves her profile a lot.

photo 1

The negative, if there could be one, is that it’s an awkward position and I feel like my contortions get in the way of the overall picture. I also know that Epic is happier and more comfortable if she can stand, move, and stay on her own. If she were taller, or I were shorter I could probably get the correct positioning standing in front of her with a cookie held ‘just so‘. As it is, I have to contort myself so I can hold her collar high enough, hold the bait low enough, and keep my eye on the “judge”. I’m not graceful. It’s awkward. So I’m going to go with this for now while working on shaping that behaviour without having to use the collar.

May 9-10, 2014 – Mid Canada Dog Association – Winnipeg, MB

Once again, a dog show coincides with a dog food order! This time, I decided we would go for an overnight trip. We’d attend two shows Friday and a show and sweepstakes on Saturday before picking up our dog food and going home.

Our first show on Friday also happened to be a Rottweiler Club of Canada Booster which means there would be prizes over and above the regular ribbons. Once again, there were no girls entered so we needed a Best of Winners to take any points. fortunately, thanks to the booster, we were guaranteed to take something home to show for our time in the ring.

I had heard some not so complimentary things about our judge online so I made sure to get there early and to watch him judge the group before us. If he seemed overly harsh with the dogs, my plan was not to show until the afternoon. As it was, the judge was very thorough, his exam was longer than any I have ever seen but he was gentle with all the dogs I watched him judge in the non-sporting group, even the ones who seemed less than impressed with dog shows in general. Having seen this, I decided we would show that morning.

We were on our own, again so I don’t have any photos or video of us in the ring which is too bad because Epic and I won her first points! FINALLY! Maybe there is hope for us yet. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to catch Epic’s breeder on Facebook to let her know. She was thrilled and asked if we would get a photo. I had not been planning on it, but I did anyway because I figured it would be nice to have a photo of our first win together.

Scan_Pic0024

Photo by Faye Unrau

That afternoon, at our second show, the dog show gods did not smile upon us. I got a comment from someone who was watching that he thought Epic looked bored so he thought I should talk to her and play with her to ‘jazz her up’. I wondered if maybe she was a bit tired, we drove to the show that morning and maybe travel plus 2 shows is too much for her.

Since then I have revised my thinking. The thing about Epic is that she is NOT a wild and crazy girl. From puppy hood, she has always been busy, but with purpose, always thoughtful, always watching before jumping in to do anything. Before I knew Epic was coming home with us, I asked the owner of her sire, Gable, what he was like in the obedience ring. Rich’s reply to me was that Gable wasn’t a flashy worker but he learned quickly, knew his job and he did it happily. This is exactly how I would describe Epic: Calm, relaxed, ready to work. I believe my ringside critic might have interpreted Epic’s calmness for boredom or lack of engagement. In the end, I decided not to make any major changes to our routines that weekend. We’d stick with what we knew and perhaps work on something different for the next show.

On Saturday, at our third show, Epic was exactly how she had been for the first two shows, we did not win any points but she showed well. I was pleased however, I got flack again from our critic once out of the ring. Don’t get me wrong, It’s not that I don’t appreciate the “help” but I have a hard time taking advice from someone who does’t know my dog very well and who, since I have known them hasn’t set foot in anything but a conformation ring. To say I question this person’s ‘dog sense’ would be an understatement but I don’t want to appear ungrateful or alienate them so I really, really need to find a way to tell this person to leave us alone without offending them.

Our final ring appearance of the day was an All-Breed Sweepstakes. We have never done one before but basically it’s a mini show for dogs of any breed that are 6 to 18 months of age. The show does not count for points but the entry fee is much lower ($10) and a portion of the entry fees is offered back as prizes. I entered because I figured it was another opportunity for us to gain experience.

We had a lot of waiting to do because for some reason, at dog shows, the boys go first. In the end, a very cute Samoyed was declared the best male. Then we had to wait for the 6-9 month girls and then, finally, it was our turn. This judge had all the dogs move around the ring quite a bit. First around together, then the exam and down and back and then finally around individually. I don’t think we have ever run around a ring so much. The other thing this judge did a lot of was look at dog’s faces and expression, both in the exam, the down and back and then on a final walk by. This suited me just fine since I think Epic has nice eyes, nice ears and a very expressive face. We won our 9-12 month class which meant we had to wait some more and then go back in with all the females for the judge to pick the best female. Once again we did a lot of running, Epic gave a lot of ‘good face’ and we won best female! Finally, shaking with excitement, we went back in for the judge to choose best in sweeps, we repeated the same routine as we had the first two times (by this time *I* was tired) and He. Chose. EPIC!!!!!

Needless to say I was thrilled, it was a lovely way to finish our weekend and we just might continue with this confrontation thing.

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Filed under Conformation, Problem Solving, Pupdate, Training

Pupdate – March 8, 2014

In the past two weeks, we haven’t been up to a whole lot.

Epic came with me to deliver a CARO rally obedience seminar in Winnipeg. It was her second time in hotel, her first time in an elevator and her first weekend in the portable fabric crate. We survived, the crate survived and no barking in the hotel room at the kids running in the hall!

20140222_203745 (1) She was very interested in the TV at this hotel and especially interested in the MiniPops commercial…but I’m not buying her the MiniPops CD!

Since we have our first rally trial coming up next month so I have been spending some time working on the rally exercises that we really find challenging.

“U” turns, 360 degree turns left and 270 degree turns left

Epic has the turning down quite nicely but somewhere, somehow I have taught her that if I make a tight turn to the left, she should probably sit down. Depending on the judge, this could cause a loss of points or an NQ. I could just make a wider turn but, that too would incur deductions in the rally ring so back to the stool/target work we go.

The video below is of me working with her moving to the left using a FitPAWS target instead of a stool. My plan is to click her for moving with her rear off the ground, and to reward her up in a stand. I was a bit late with the click a few times but you can see she is beginning to get it.

Sit – Stand

I have also been working a lot of stand from sit. I’d like to teach Epic a kick back stand where the dog anchors their front feet and stands from the rear as opposed to stepping into the stand.  I like this stand because it looks sharp and because it keeps a dog in heel position which sets them up better for a straight down or sit from the stand, in my opinion. I don’t have any video this time but hope to have some next time.

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Getting a Handle on Housetraining Issues

For many dog owners, housetraining is the #1 thing we want our dogs to learn. In my experience it is also one of the most frustrating and emotionally charged training issues that dog owners struggle with, and I can relate.

Yes I’m a dog trainer and, yes, I’ve had house training issues…

When Epic came home with us, for the first few weeks, I was amazed at how well she did. She peed or pooped outside every time I took her out.  “Housetraining ain’t so hard”, I thought.

Then the “incidents” started happening.

  • Epic would pee in her crate at home or poop on the floor right after we brought her in. From outside. Where she peed or pooped 2 minutes earlier.
  • We would go the whole week without an incident and then have 2 or three on the same day.

Things finally came to a head for me while Sean was away, I was sick , and we had multiple incidents in a weekend, including one on the carpet. It might have been the sleep deprivation, it might have been the cold meds but I remember calmly letting my puppy into the yard coming inside and then breaking out in tears as I reached for the paper towel. Again.

puppy pee drama

Once I calmed down and let my puppy inside, I sat down with her in snuggled in my lap and thought about what I would tell someone in my place.

What everyone needs to know about housetraining

  1. Use an enzymatic cleaner to clean up pet messes. Dogs have a natural tendency to return urinate and defecate in the same place. You want to make sure that if there is an incident in your house that you remove all traces of it. Unfortunately, all the scented human products in the world will not hide the odour of a previous doggy indiscretion from your dog’s high powered nose. You need to use a pet specific enzymatic cleaner that breaks down organic stains and odours. I use the Odor Out products by EnviroFresh and Nature’s Miracle, both are available at pet supply stores or in the pet aisle of your local department store. Do not use other cleaners before using these products and make sure to follow the directions on the bottle.
  2. Rule out medical causes.  If your dog is suddenly peeing more frequently than she used to, if she appears to be straining a lot, or if she has frequent diarrhoea indoors, a trip to the vet may be warranted. A number of illnesses, infections and parasites may be compromising her ability to go when, and where, she should. If you have ever had a bad case of gastritis, or a urinary tract infection you know how urgent nature’s call can be when you are not feeling well. When you contact your vet, tell them about your house training issues and tell them you want to rule out any health related causes. The fact that you took your dog in for her annual exam last week does not mean she is healthy: Specific tests need to be run in order to diagnose certain illnesses and parasites.
  3. House Training 101. Assuming your dog is free and clear of infection and parasites. It’s time to implement some house training protocols. Whether your dog has never been housetrained or your dog is having a relapse, the approach is the same. Whether you want to teach your dog to go under the maple tree in your yard or in an indoor dog pats, the protocol is the same. I won’t  reiterate the great resources already out there on the internet, but if you need a housetraining refresher, investigate the following FREE resources:
  4. Seek Professional Help. If you you have given housetraining 101 (or the refresher course) an honest try and are not seeing improvement, now is the time to contact a canine professional. There is a possibility that the issues you are experiencing have a deeper behavioral cause. The two professional organisations that I recommend are the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). Each organisation has a search function on their home page to help you find a professional near you.

No more crying over poop in our house!

In our case, the solution to our problem was relatively simple, but it required a level of commitment on my part to resolve.

I realised that Epic’s housetraining lapses were my fault: During the week, at work, it was is easy to keep Epic a regular potty schedule but once we got home, my internal clock is not set to “puppy time”. Once I actually started setting a timer on my phone to go off every 30 minutes (no joke!), and rewarding Epic with a cookie every time she went outdoors, incidents decreased to nothing.

What was a real pain the the rear for a week or two has paid off in spades. Epic still goes outside frequently (every hour or so) but in my books, getting off the couch for a minute or two is much less frustrating than having to clean the floors!

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Filed under Health & Safety, Problem Solving, Training

9 Skills to Teach your Novice Rally Dog

260549_10150212130698903_3270015_nAs a rally judge I have often observed that for some dog and handler teams, not having one skill can result in a number of point deductions and even disqualification.

For example, when a dog and handler team has trouble with left pivots, then they almost always have difficulty with left turns, about “U” turns, left circles and left finishes. When all of these exercises appear in the same course in a trial situation, this can result in a number of deductions because the dog lacks one technical skill – turning to the left.

Another example that comes to mind is the dog that is otherwise perfect but has crooked sits. I once unintentionally designed a CARO Novice Level (Which was approved) course that contained 15 sits! 15 crooked sits at 1-2 points each means that a team could lose 15-30 points. Depending on your dog, 15-30 points could be the difference between a qualifying score and a non-qualifying score. It could also be the different between a perfect score of 200 or a 180 because the dog lacks one important skill – Sit at Heel.

From a training perspective, I believe it is easier for our dogs if we teach our dogs the fundamental skills and before trying to attempt specific rally exercises.

Let’s think about that for a minute using left turns as an example. Your dog cannot read signs. He doesn’t know if you are going to turn 90 degrees, 180 degrees, 270 degrees or a full 360 degrees to the left. From his perspective you are just turning left and his job is to pivot on his front feet and tuck his rear to the right until you move forward. You only need to teach him a 360 pivot to the left, and you only really need to use one cue for all of the left turning exercises.

Now that I’ve got you thinking about rally in terms of skills instead of exercises, I know you are dying to know which skills your dog needs to learn. At the novice level in CARO, I break the 29 exercises into things down into 9 technical skills (with variations). 9 is easier than 29, don’t you think?

9 Skills for the Novice Rally Dog

  1. Heeling (Slow/Normal/Fast)
  2. Sit (Heel/Front)
  3. Stand (Heel)
  4. Down(Heel)
  5. Turn left
  6. Turn right
  7. Right finish (Go around)
  8. Left Finish (Swing)
  9. Stay (Sit/Down)

The good news is, most of these skills can be learned and perfected at home, in your living room. Once your dog understands the technical skills, and you can perform the exercises, your next step is to teach your dog the skills she will need to perform a full course, in public, at a trial or fun match with randomised rewards!

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