a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: June 2014

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Clicker Training

SUMMARY: So much to learn, so many dogs, so little time.

I taught Tika and Boost to stretch on command (and Boost her back legs, too), at least more or less, by following Susan Garrett's suggestion to have a clicker and treats right after you get up while you're sitting on the -- throne. Yes. Because dogs will get up off their beds and come in and stretch. What a great time to catch them doing that.

So every morning they get the commands for that while I'm there to practice, except Tika stopped wanting to several months ago, so then it was mostly Boost.

To keep things hopping, so that that's not the only thing that Boost does while we're there, I mix it up with nose touches, hand shakes, left and right. And I keep saying, Boost, I should teach you more tricks.

Now I have Chip. Chip is cheating me because he comes in to see what's going on, then goes back out into the bedroom and around the corner and I can just barely see one of his leg when he stretches. Meanwhile Boost is right in front of me, staring at me, so she'll think that any click and treat is for her.  It will be challenging to teach Chip to stretch on command.

But he has figured out that treats are being handed out, so he comes in and wants in on the action. But all he knows is a wimpy nose touch. Which gets boring. So I need to teach *him* more tricks.

Next, I'm dogsitting my sister's dog, Abby. Abby likes to greet you at any time with something in her mouth. Her most favoritest thing is socks, but anything else will suffice if the mean humans have hidden all the socks.

Me find stick!

So now *she* comes in in the morning where treats are being handed out and wants some, too. She knows "sit". But that gets boring really fast. So I decided to teach her a nose touch to the back of my hand. She seemed to get it right away. I'm experimenting with doing it in different places in the house to see whether it's really a thing or whether she's just hoping that there's food in the hand. Have worked on that for a minute or so a couple of times a day for the last 4 days.

She also hates having her paws touched or held. So I started working on that with a clicker and tasty treats, just touch her paw and click really fast before she moves it and treat. Over and over and over. I was able to touch longer and with more pressure, but always on the top of her foot. As soon as I started trying to touch the sides, it was harder because she always moved right away.

[Note about training sessions: If I have time, I do multiple passes with each dog. So, 10 treats worth of work with Tika, then with Boost, then with Chip, then back around again. For the moment, Abby is in the mix, too. This gives the dogs' brains a chance to relax and not stress out between times.  If things seem to be going well and no signs of stress, or if I need a lot of rewards in a very short period, I'll do more than 10 treats worth, maybe 20 or 30. When desensitizing Chip to the flap of the dog door, I just stood there for 5 minutes or so with a hot dog in my hand and flapped flapped flapped over and over while he just licked at the hot dog and got tiny nibbles of it. That process wouldn't have worked, I don't think, 10 treats at a time.]

So back to Chip, I decided to teach him Shake, since he doesn't yet. Have had three sessions during which I worked on shaping that (holding a treat with my thumb in my open palm, waiting for him to move a paw, then move it more, then touch my hand, etc.) with the clicker. He's starting to get it--much less time licking and much quicker to lift his paw to my hand now.

Only thing is that he much prefers his left paw than his right paw. I did teach Tika different commands and cues for left and right shake, apparently I need to do the same with him. Thinking about that, or whether it's better to find ways to make it easier for him to use his right paw first. Training tricks is so easy and yet there are so many decisions!

Then it occurred to me that maybe learning "Shake" was a better way to teach Abby to let someone hold her paw. So yesterday morning I switched to that. She was much quicker to use her paw to begin with, so after a couple of sessions, she's also already lifting her paw to my hand--but she does it at the same time as she's rooting firmly into my hand with her nose. Trying to not let her get her nose on my hand before her paw gets there now. Tricky. Have to be persistent at keeping my hand away from her nose without her getting frustrated and stop trying before she uses her paw. I think I can manage that OK.

I have probably this morning and this evening for a couple more sessions of working on that before she goes home; will see how far I get.

Meanwhile, back to Boost. Decided to work on her walking backwards. Never did solidify that thing. Making progress. She also by default wants to try to lift her back legs onto something, because I've put so many sessions into the work for her to do a handstand. But she's getting over that.

And Tika wants in on it, too. I'm trying to get her to sit up and other things to strengthen her core, but her back end is pretty weak these days. I should do this a couple of times a day every day, but just never feel like I have the time. So mostly we just do the good old tricks, anything to get her moving in tight circles or backing up.

All of this is good to give all the dogs practice at lying down and waiting their turns. Some dogs aren't quite as cooperative about this...right, CHIP??

This is also challenging when my back is killing me, which it has been doing excessively the last few days. Sucks. Working with the doctors to figure out what next.

But dogs are enjoying their treats and the attention. That's the important thing.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Graduation animated GIF

SUMMARY: Because I can...

...and because facebook won't display it animated. Bah.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Chip Training Update

SUMMARY: Wobble board, nose touch, fireworks and heat, fence barking.

We started a Foundations class last week and it's good practice for him to wait quietly in his crate (except when he periodically barked challenges at the silhouette of a dachshund lawn ornament on a nearby wall--he did something similar at a dog park with painted pictures of dogs outside the fence). Also good for me to be more focused on training.

This last week not so much for focusing; up to Portland for 2 days then another day full of graduations then a long work day and an evening out, so we practiced mostly just Saturday and Sunday.


Last week's issue: The wobble board.  Fairly early on with him, I shortened one leg of the Table (by about maybe 2 inches), played tug with Tika on it and with Boost on it for him to watch, then got him playing tug on the ground and convinced him to jump up and continue there. Other than a short period of concern, he then relaxed and paid the movement no more mind. So I figured I was OK.

Introduce the class teeter with about a 6" drop at one end to play the Bang Game (reward the dog when he makes the teeter end bang down), and he stepped on it, it moved, and he was done with that. So then: Introduce the class Wobble Board with a 10" drop and supported only in the middle rather than along one axis (like my table or the teeter) , and after putting his feet on and it moved like crazy, he'd have nothing to do with it.

The instructor loaned me a wobble board to bring home. Trying to get him to decide to get on the board and shape that behavior (reward for looking at it, then for moving towards it, then for a foot touch, etc, but in very small increments). After 3 days, all we had achieved was two feet on the side that's in touch with the ground. Slightest movement, and he was outa there. I propped it up some so that the drop wasn't nearly the full 10", but no go.

Boost and Tika, that's a different matter. Could hardly keep them off it, even though Tika's back legs are pretty week these days and she kept losing her footing, falling, getting back up, trying again, very excited. Boost also excited about it: Jeez, really good chicken treats just for standing on a wobbly board!  (Neither Jake nor Remington had issues about things moving under them, either--Rem used to leap onto the patio glider to get a better view of the squirrels, and that thing leaped all over the place.)
Anyway, Chip would even jump back if the board moved because the other dogs or I moved it, and Doh! it took me until today to remember how long it took to desensitize him to the motion & noise of the dog door flap:

So this morning I did a ton of Human-Mom-Bangs-Wobble-Board with him standing near it and getting a treat every time I banged it.  Did that for a total of maybe 5 minutes until he wasn't jerking every time it hit.  THEN within a few minutes more, he was getting his front feet on and leaving them on when it moved slightly (with me supporting it so it wasn't so sudden). Still cautious, but now not jumping back as soon as there was motion.

So he's just going to take longer on this before we get to the Teeter, but the teeter should be a piece of cake afterwards. Says here.


I'm still working on that haphazardly, but he's moving to touch it in various offered places now. Not all the way to ground level yet, but the touch is getting more forceful and he's doing it to various flat objects, not just the clear plastic target. When I taught this to Remington--my first-ever clicker training assignment--he was doing a forceful nose touch & moving to the target within our first 5 minutes! Chip is not that dog.


The dang dog next door likes to throw himself at the fence and make a ruckus. I've debated asking the neighbor whether we could just put in a gate and let the dogs play together, because it sure looks to me like your basic fence-fighting game: "Hold me back, hold me back!" but when you remove the fence, the dogs are best buds.


Tika occasionally gave in to temptation and returned the fence throwing/ferocious barking, but could be easily deterred.  Not Chip. I've tried chasing him away and saying No! and Cut it out! in various firm but not agitated ways. What I seemed to get was him checking to see whether I was around whenever he made a ruckus. If I just opened the back door, he'd come running, but if I didn't, or if we were already out in the yard, fageddaboudit.

I moved towards prevention rather than deterrence: If I were in the house (e.g., trying to work) and he started in at that, I just brought him inside and closed off the doggie door. Which is inconvenient for me and for the other dogs. And didn't solve the problem, just postponed it.

SOOO I reversed strategy, using his "checking in to see whether I was around" existing behavior with the Premack Principle.

Results were very good after the first couple of sessions (while I was out doing yardwork or training or whatever in the yard). By the end of it, he'd hit the fence, bark a couple of times, and look at me, instead of staying there engaging in frantic almost-uninterruptable throwing/barking. OR, even better, look back at me as he approached the fence, hence was rewarded, so never even got there. Yeah! Don't know whether this will take care of what he might do while I'm not here.

But progress feels good.

SIT/DOWN STAY: Getting longer. Trying to work it with the hose spraying (just one squirt--he's staying in position more of the time now with that one squirt).


Why on earth the Idiots are setting them off when (a) it's illegal and (b) we're in the worst drought in recorded history and fire danger is extreme and it has been very hot lately. But, whatever. Ten days ago, found out that they Freak. Chip. Out.  Neighbors, many of whom are also upset (many with freaked-out dogs of whom one actually has seizures from the experience), think that it might be graduation parties. Yeah, best way to graduate: Break the law, terrify kids and dogs for miles around, and start a raging wildfire. Good.

Chip just stands rigidly, trying to figure out where the noise is coming from, jerking his head left and right. Tries hiding in one closet, tries hiding in the other closet, tries crawling under the bed, tries to crawl into the sink (?!!!!) and around and around. He'll settle a little bit if I let him hide under my bedcovers with me (I have never ever let dogs do that before), but even that lasts only a little while. Plus it's hot!  So some nights it has been tough for me to get to sleep.

He's the first of my 7 dogs to be this way.

Yesterday, my yard hit 104 F (40 C), and it was still over 90 when I left the house around 5:30 for the evening, so I did not open the upstairs bedroom windows at that time. When I got home at 11:30, all three dogs greeted me, but then Chip disappeared. I went upstairs to open the windows and turn on the fans, and he was hiding in the big closet, curled up in the bed that I put in there. Still pretty hot up there, but if he felt safe, OK...

I left him there for a bit until I heard him sort of coughing--like he had something in his throat. Went back upstairs, and he vomited a tiny bit (on the carpet, of course). I noticed then that there were several little vomit spots like that near and in the closet. The water bowl in the upstairs bedroom was empty, so I filled that and he immediately drank a ton of water but kept that little cough and a few more little vomits as I frantically tried to clean them up. Then one big gush and all the water he had drunk came out.

That's when it occurred to me that he was in the early stages of heat stroke. (You know, sometimes I'm not too quick on these things.) Went through various stages of me figuring out what to do. Immediately wet his stomach/groin area and ears (bare skin to be cooled by the fans) and paws. He started to settle. Let him drink more water--that was a mistake, as it again came back out a few minutes later. Then I moved him and the other dogs outside (where he didnt want to go), where it was noticeably cooler than upstairs. Kept the skin parts moist and waited to see whether the coughing stopped, which it did. Left the dogs outside for a bit while I did a cursory clean-up on the various vomit sites.

Came back downstairs to find him standing on the full-height counter outside the kitchen window. I have no idea how he got up there, except that he sure can jump.  Maybe there was a firework that I didn't hear and he wanted to get back in.

I then provided a bowl of water with ice cubes and let him drink a little at a time over about 10 minutes while I held a blue-ice pack on various parts of  his body; although he already felt much cooler than he had when I first held onto him, I wanted to be sure. Fortunately he likes to be held and touched.

When he got to where he didn't want to suck down tons of water, and there had been no more coughing or vomiting, we went back upstairs to bed and everything and everyone was fine.

At 2 in the morning.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Day Two of Useless Human Mom

SUMMARY: More agility dog abuse with friends.

This morning I could barely walk out to the yard with the dogs. Hobbled in from the parking lot at the agility trial site. Did a little bit of set-up at the score table and confirmed with one friend from yesterday that she'd be willing to try running Boost in Standard and Grand Prix.  I squeegeed off a table covered with morning dew--and realized that I suddenly felt much better. So I walked the Gambler's course, thinking that I'd run her, but just walking around the course a couple of times hurt enough that I changed my mind and enlisted the other friend from yesterday.

Sooooo Gamblers and Standard and Grand Prix went more or less like they had at the end of the day yesterday. Today, Boost was more interactive and happy and comfortable getting riled up by the friends before the runs, and she started out running with each of them, but did only about 5 or 6 obstacles before turning and fleeing for the ring exit. Funny, after one of those runs, after she reached me, she immediately turned around and started looking for the friend to see what she was doing. Dang dog. Too bad I can't be out in the ring, too. (Standing next to the ring didn't work any better.)

Our clearly stated goal was to try to give Boost more experience running with other people, and Qs jus didn't matter at that point, just to try getting her to run and keep her running. Better than yesterday, sure. But a long way to go!

Later in the day, the Snooker course had a ton of tunnels and an Aframe, and I've become SO tired of Snookers that consist pretty much entirely of jumps (with their associated risk of knocked bars), and I was so sad and frustrated earlier in the day that I wasn't able to run with my dog, that I decided to try running her in Snooker. It became apparent during the walkthrough that the Super-Qs would be decided by speed, because pretty much everyone (or a huge percentage thereof) would be doing three 7s in the opening.

I thought about scratching because I didn't want that much pressure, but decided to at least try it. Actually worked pretty nicely, and we got all the way halfway through 6 (out of 7) in the closing and I forgot to do a front cross, tried to rear cross a tunnel and pushed her off it. But I'm pretty sure that, even if we had finished, we'd have still lost the Super-Q on time; DANG there are some fast dogs out there! Still, it was nice, I was able to run some, she did good and kept her bars up. I did hurt a bit more while leaving the field, and I scratched her from the final run of the weekend (Jumpers) because she looked pretty tired when I pulled her out of the x-pen for Snooker.

Oh, right, she did get a Q in Snooker, but no Super-Q.

Chip did NOT stay in the x-pen today. I tried it three times and he was out in a matter of minutes, so he went back into the crate today. Today he did not want to play tug with me at all; I tried 3 or 4 times but my back hurt too much to keep at it, so I just did low-key things with treats.My

Not much else to tell; just how my friends are so accommodating and cheerful and willing to try things with my dog, and how helpful people are in keeping the trial running, and how many nice people asked me how I was doing (and i tried not to grumble about having a crappy back--at least "Back is not good, but the rest of me is pretty good").  Agility community is excellent.

My back doesn't seem to be any worse than it was before the weekend. Just on any given day it's likely to be particularly crappy.  But boy, I'm exhausted again. Off to bed even though it's early. The dogs have all been pretty quiet and sacked out, even though we didn't do much really during the day. Just being at a trial with all the stimulation I think can tire them out mentally. This is a good thing.