Category Archives: Training

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.

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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 – Week 23

23 Weeks, 1 Day

I have gradually been introducing Epic to some different adult dogs from the ones I typically allow to meet puppies. I am doing this gradually because a negative experience can have long lasting effects. So far she’s handling things very well with new dogs: she’s greeting them appropriately, inviting them to play and using great calming signals when play gets too rough for her.

23 Weeks, 2 Days

Weight: 23.4kg ~ 51.5lb

Epic and I went to the vet to have her ears re-checked after an ear infection. All looked well so we went ahead and got her rabies vaccine. I have been delaying Rabies as long as possible. Her breeder would prefer a year but in order to attempt the CGN this winter, I need to get a municipal licence and in order to get a municipal licence, I need proof of vaccination against rabies. Go Figure.

23 Weeks, 4 Days

I thought I post an update on our left pivot progress. We have been working away on the stool and Epic can pivot 360 degrees with me so it’s time to up the ante a but by trying the pivot on a different, lower surface, and I have chosen the FitPAWS Balance Disc. The disc also happens to be a bit more of a workout for her, as she has to use all of those stabiliser muscles (front and rear) to stay on the disc while turning.

I am pleased with her progress so far. She is pivoting nicely and you can see she is beginning to move back into heel position as she pivots and then look at me as if to say “Well, I did it, cookie PLEASE!”.

I am going to keep up the disc work because I think it’s a great leg workout but over the next week I am going to start using one of my FitPAWS target in place of the disc. Up until now,  have been moving around the disc but since the target is completely flat, I can step on it too and begin to make my pivots more and more “in place”.

23 Weeks, 5 Days

Recently, while practicing our rally moves, Epic has been drifting away. It does not appear to me that she drifts to anything but she kind of “checks out”. I am choosing to take this as a sign that she is not feeling well, stressed by something or that the work is not rewarding enough for her. Instead of insisting that she work (or using corrections), I am going to take a different approach that will involve micro-training and some of the great games in Control Unleashed.

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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

Pupdate – Week 18

18 Weeks

Since today is Halloween, I took a few photos of Epic..and her pumpkin.

This evening was also my last class in Portage La Prairie so I decided to bring both dogs with me since I wasn’t sure what Sean had planned and to avoid the barking etc that tends to go on when folks ring our doorbell – even though our house always looks abandoned on Halloween.

I don’t typically dress Bear up, it’s hard to find “big dog” costumes but I did find this tiara for Epic. Pretending to be a princess isn’t much of a stretch for her!

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18 Weeks, 2 Days

Weight: 19.2lbs ~ 42lbs

Today, Epic and I celebrate a very important milestone. it’s been two whole weeks without any housetraining relapses. We started off with housetraining really well, and when Sean went away, and then I was sick for a week, it went to, well, crap. I got back on top of things and it’s been two weeks (and counting) since I’ve had to haul out the mop or paper towel at home, or at work.

This afternoon was our second Conformation class. Today I used roast beef as food rewards – and boy did it ever. Today we had two new people examine Epic, a woman and a man who are in the class. The woman did not seem to bother her but she was a bit worried about showing her teeth to the man until I let her face him straight on before showing her bite. She was less interested in the other dogs today, even the ones we did not see last class and she completely ignored the squeaky toys others were using to get their dog’s attention.

The two things we need to work on for next week are me being able to move away from her while she is in the free stack and teaching her to hold a stacked position and wait for her food to be delivered instead of diving for it – which doesn’t make for a very flattering picture.

18 Weeks 3 Days

Today I did not have dogs at work but I did have to go in to do a few things. Since today is one of the days we have a groomer come to the daycare and she brought one of her dogs. Epic got to play (meaning follow around) with a 10yo pointer boy, Cowboy who is just Great with puppies! While I was there a local Rottweiler breeder/exhibitor came in to have his dog’s toenails filed so I brought Epic out to see him.

He took a real hard look at her conformation and told me what he liked about her and what he saw as problematic. Overall she thought she was a nice dog and that her current ‘problem areas’ might improve once she is more physically mature. I didn’t ask for his opinion but I got it and, I see the same things he does and I feel the same way – things will change as she natures – and if they don’t, there is life after Conformation for us!

18 Weeks, 4 Days

Today Epic and I worked a bit on shaping with some FitPAWS equipment. check out the video below. I swear, you can practically HEAR her think!

18 Weeks, 5 Days

Today, I decided to start working on heel position with Epic. I have been holding off on it for some time now because I wasn’t sure how I would approach it. To be honest, I can’t even remember how I taught Bear to heel and in our beginning rally classes we basically shape heeling and lure/reward sit at heel. With Epic, I want to approach things in more of a structured way because I want good position, rhythm and attitude. I also want to shape this behaviour because I want it to be one of her strongest behaviours, I want her to ‘own’ it. So, today, after some inspiration from this YouTube video, I decided to start clicking/rewarding epic every time she moved to my left side. If I was the centre of the clock, I was clicking  any position from 6 o’clock to 12 0clock and rewarding at my left side. If she appeared to get “stuck”, I waited for her to offer movement to the left and then rewarded by tossing a cookie behind her to ‘reset’. In one session she caught on very quickly to the fact that staying on my left side was earning her cookies, now I just need to narrow down the “window” to the few square inches beside me.

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Herding Clinic with Roy Sage – April 20 & 21, 2013

I am a bit behind but two weekends ago, Bear and I headed to St. Norbert, MB for three days of herding. This was my first herding clinic so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’m new enough to the sport to know I don’t really know anything.

There were a variety of dogs and handlers at the clinic including mixed breeds, Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds, Swedish Vallhunds, a Dandie Dinmont, a Poodle and our friend Astrid, a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog. I only recall one border collie in attendance!Some dogs were new to herding some have been attending classes for the past year or so. Some of the dogs took to herding like dicks to water and others needed some encouraging to interact with the sheep. Regardless of what happened in the ring, Roy, the clinician, had something nice to say about each dog and their work.

Over the weekend, Bear and I made progress in a few areas and discovered a few new challenges. Below are the highlights:

  • We managed to get Bear to work a little further away from the sheep i.e. not plastered to their butts. When Bear works farther back, the sheep panic less and Bear barks less.
  • I discovered that Bear barks mostly when I turn him from moving in a  counter clockwise direction (away)  to circling clockwise (come by).This means he’s turning left, which was the same way he turned in flyball…at least he’s consistent.
  • We were able to move sheep in more of a straight line than we ever have.
  • Not once all weekend did he try to dive in and grab wool.
  • Bear worked in a ring with 2 border collies in attendance…staring at the sheep…as border collies do. He gave them a brief glance and then went back to his sheep..no hard stare, no lunge, no nothing.
  • We started working on walk-ups and getting Bear to move towards the sheep at a speed slightly slower than Mach 10. Sheep don’t like Mach 10. and moving slowly towards the sheep is a skill we need for driving at the intermediate level.
  • We started a few call offs – calling Bear away from the sheep. He was better than I thought he would be. Leaving perfectly good moving sheep is going to be one of the major challenges for us if we ever progress to the intermediate level.
  • Roy believes Bear is barking not at the sheep to get them to move but at me because I am preventing him from doing what he would like. I would agree that frustration and barking go hand in hand with Bear.

Roy said he thought we could ‘go far’…not sure what that means. I think our progress will mostly be limited by how often we can get out and train on sheep and right now, it’s around once a month. Roy did leave us with some ideas for ‘dry land training’ without sheep and I will write more about these as we give them a try.

Other highlights of the weekend included: Meeting some new people including another rottie owner and someone who lives not far from us, great food and company (as always) and and two incident-free nights in the hotel with our friends Stephanie and Astrid!

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Filed under Herding, Notes, Problem Solving, Training

Herding – April 6, 2013

I was supposed to be at agility trial in Thunder Bay this weekend…but low entries led to a trial cancellation. While disappointing and distressing I was *gasp* left with a free weekend. This gave me the opportunity to get one more herding class in before the herding clinic on the 19th.

I spent most of the class trying to figure out where I should be in relation to the sheep and when I should leave Bear to work. Apparently I have been in the way and to be honest, it always often feels that way. As usual, our second run was better than the first, likely because Bear is tired.

Today, however, with some great guidance, I got a few minutes of some nice calm work from Bear . Calm for him, that is. Now the challenge is for me to do what I need to do to keep it that way. Aside from calmness being easier on the sheep (and me) it will also the difference between a higher score and a lower score in a trial.

Today’s experience reminds me a lot of when I learned to drive a standard car. I knew what I should be doing, I knew how it should be done, I could get the car in gear occasionally but I lacked the timing and coordination to pull it off consistently until I had practiced (and stalled out) many times.

Unfortunately, the real problem with herding is not getting the mechanical timing right but coordinating the movements of living, breathing things with tiny brains – some of whom would rather be in another pasture, one of whom thinks wool tastes awesome!

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Filed under Herding, Musings, Training