Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Training Articles

In my last post, I wrote about how hard it was for me to see where I could break going for a walk into smaller steps, and how that kept us from making progress for well over a year. As I was sharing my new discoveries with my husband (also very involved with Kumi - probably more than me) we started discussing the uselessness of most 'how to clicker train' resources we'd found, and came up with the following parody:

How 'The Internet' Tells you to Train Your Dog:

Don't hit your dog.

Do not hit him with a cane. Do not hit him on a train. Do not hit him in the rain.

Do not hit him in a box. Do not hit him with a fox. Do not hit him wearing socks.

Do not hit him on a farm. Do not hit him on the arm. Do not hit him when it's warm.

Do not hit him when it's cold. Do not hit him if he's old. Do not hit him you've been told!

To teach your do how to make you breakfast, first, show him where the eggs are. Then click and treat as he prepares each course correctly. Remember not to hit your dog.


It always felt like there were...some steps missing. Or, at the very least, an assumption that your dog was a lot more interested (driven? Similar in personality to a border collie?) than ours was.

So, ironically, right after figuring things out for ourselves and laughing at the dearth of good information available, we found Sue Ailsby's training levels. And, they're useful. They go slow enough. Importantly for me, they have numbers. As in, 'do this 10 times for 5 seconds'. Instead of 'do this a lot for very short durations'. I like her method of teaching duration. It's very structured and appeals to the 'nerd' in the title up there. After a poor track record of getting Kumi to submit to grooming without being restrained, I've started using her approach to that. It's way too soon to know if it's doing any good, but at least it's a plan.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cookie Pusher

Last week, I went and got the mail with Kumi pretty much without her pulling on the leash. She did stop to sniff at the mole hills, but she was able to pull her attention back to me.

[crazy excited cheers] This feels so huge.

And I did it pretty much the way we were told to in the beginning. The way that 100% didn't work at all. A little tiny bit of that is that we've gotten a better rapport over a year and a half of living together, but mostly It just took me this long to understand the approach and figure out which parts were important, and how to break it down for my dog, instead of the instructor's terrier.

See, even in the beginning it wasn't to hard to get Kumi doing a heel in the house, or in the yard. We wowwed the instructor with lovely figure-eights and patterns around obstacles. But Kumi's always been very sensitive to 'home' vs. 'not home' and it was an entirely different scenario when we were trying to leave home, or leave the car, or go anywhere. She just hit the end of the leash and turned off to everything else. 'Going' was the ultimate reward to her, and our darn cookies weren't even a close second. I remember walking in circles around the backyard and having her break every time we turned towards the gate. I remember standing in the middle of the driveway, having painfully won her attention back just steps after leaving the yard, and having her take the cheese from my hand only to drop it on the ground and ignore it.

So, what worked this time is I figured out how to make the steps even small enough, while still being steps forward, and not just more practice on what we already knew.

The one bright spot I started from was that Kumi has a very good reflex to sit to open doors. She would quiver with excitement, but she would sit at the gate. So that's where I started. I made her sit. I put her leash on. I opened the gate, and I fed her a handful of cookies. They weren't even particularly good cookies. Then I closed the gate, took her leash off, and we were done. I went back in the house.

That was that first baby step I needed.

After a few sessions, she was calm enough to watch me and wait for the next cookie to come. So I stepped to the other side of the gate, stopped, and fed her the rest of the cookies. At once. 'yes'-cookie-'yes'-cookie-'yes'-cookie. Did my best to not give her time to even turn her head away.

That step took longer, but she started anticipating the next cookie and hanging around me waiting for it rather than anticipating going on a walk and hanging around the end of the leash waiting for that. I'd managed to re-program what comes after 'we go through the gate' to 'I get a bunch of cookies' instead of 'I go wander around in the wide world dragging someone behind me on a leash'.

I did a little work giving her time to look away and rewarding that, which was, duh, the 'look at that' game the trainer suggested, except starting that game when she was looking away by default never got anywhere. I had to get her looking at me by default first. I had such a hard time understanding what we were supposed to be accomplishing with that, and what I was supposed to be rewarding, but 'a reminder that even when you aren't staring at me, I still have the cookies and might give you one any time' makes sense.

So, I won't say it was easy after that mental shift, but it was possible. We worked our way down the driveway five feet at a time. When we got to the end of the driveway and stepped into the grass, she flipped back into 'must go' mode, so we had to start back at the beginning of the driveway in the grass, and work our way down the side of it again.

After our mail box achievement, (well, the next day), I loaded her in the car and took her to the park and tried the same thing, filling her full of cookies right there in the parking lot as soon as she left the car. And that was too big of a step. I tried backing up and treating her while she was still in the car, but even that was pretty rough going, as she was much more interested in looking past me to what was going on than taking treats.

I think my next plant is to load her into the car, and reward her for a while before I start the engine. The next step will be reward her at home, drive to the park, reward her in the car, then drive home without even getting out. Then I'll start working on getting out of the car.

Wish me luck. I think I might have a chance this time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kitten defense

We had workers over yesterday to install counter tops. We've had a lot of people over this spring remodeling the kitchen. It's not Kumi's favorite thing, but she's gotten to be ok with it either in her crate, or if M's home out in the yard, or tethered with him in the other room so she can't get in the way.

Today, she was sleeping in the bedroom (with the AC) when they came over, and as we still have a babygate there from the dobermans, M just swung that closed. I think she kept sleeping for a while, and didn't really react since they were out of her line of sight even when she woke up.

Until one of them walked over to that side of the room to pet Fuu. She didn't react when she saw the strange man in the house, but when she saw him approach Fuu, she gave a warning growl, louder when he got closer, and was clearly unhappy about him touching her.

I know this is probably not something I should be happy about, but they are rough circumstances for Kumi with all the strangers in the house, so I give her a little slack to make warning noises towards people she hasn't been introduced to wandering around the living room, and it makes me smile that she considers Fuu worthy of protection.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First Foster - Andy: Days one and two

So, the dog we were slated to get for our first foster was a sweetie-pie older dog, with a known history. But, he was adopted, so we ended up with the total experience (well, almost, he is house and crate trained). A young male, lots of energy, pulled from the pound with no known history prior to that whatsoever. I felt like I spent the entire first day saying 'no' or 'leave it' to a dog that would not settle down. He peed a lake over the kitchen floor (my fault, I thought there was no way he could need to go again that quickly, but apparently he'd really been drinking), and threw a screaming fit in his crate at three in the morning.

Then things started to get better. Thoughts as bullet points.

  • He is picture-perfect with the cats. He will politely sniff and investigate, but doesn't push things, growl, or corner them. Of course, our cats are pretty savvy, and while they've swatted his face a few times, they haven't run. For what it's worth, he's taken the face swatting in stride.
  • Thank goodness he respects baby gates (or even a chair placed in the middle of a doorway). He neither jumps, nor pushes things over.
  • He's really intent on knowing where we are, but hasn't been overly cuddly. He follows room to room, and if you go where he can't follow, he'll wait at that doorway until you come back. Sitting in the living room, he will lay down a few feet away, but in sight, and come over to check on me every ten-twenty minutes or so. Sticks his head in my lap and gets some scratches, then goes back to his spot.
  • Similar thing with being outside. If you go out with him, he will trot around happily enough, or chase you, but he stays in sight. If you go back in, he wants in too right away. He seems to prefer indoors to outdoors a little bit in general.
  • He played fetch with M once, and had a pretty good 'drop it'. Other times he's shown no interest at all in thrown objects.
  • He's definetly more interested in me than M. I don't know whether it's because I had him alone most of the first day, or if he just prefers women, but he becomes quite concerned if I'm out of sight, even if M is there with him.
  • He hasn't really played with Kumi yet. They mostly ignore each other at this point. She's offered him some bows and invitations, but he isn't interested so far.
  • M did a two mile run with him both mornings so far. I don't know whether that is helping take the edge off, or whether he's just settling in better. He is still going full speed at the end, unlike M & Kumi, who are pretty tired out by that distance. The first day he did come home straight from three hours of off leash play with other dogs, so I would have thought that would tire him out some too.
  • He seems to already know sit and down, maybe shake. I think I'm using a different cue than he had for down previously, because he doesn't do it very consistently, but he'll sometimes offer it spontaneously when I have a treat he wants, and it's a very enthusiastic, planned movement, like he knows I might be asking for it, not just that he wants to lie down now. I'm less certain on shake - he might just like using his paws for things. We probably aren't going to pursue that one anyway.
  • He pulls like a plow horse. At 93 lbs (him, not me), I physically cannot control him on a leash. He is good on the head harness, but we'd like to move away from that. M spent some time working on heel, and said he was picking it up just they way they say they should in all the books (just like Kumi didn't). I'm hoping we can have him heeling by the next adoption meetup.
  • While M's working on heel, I've been doing touch. We're both trying to get him to sit before he goes outside or gets petted so that becomes automatic. Unlike Kumi, I'm also asking him to sit before he comes inside, since that seems to be quite a reward for him, and he's rushing the door in that direction, whereas Kumi has to be bribed to come in.
  • He's very enthusiastic about training, and loves working for treats. I think he'd be great for someone that wants to do more advanced training, because he seems to be a quick study, and really enjoys it.
  • He takes treats very roughly, biting your whole hand to get at the little nibble. If he's calm, he will sometimes take the first two more politely, so I think it's an excitement issue. I'm going to try turning around and ignoring him when he starts doing that in the future to see it that's successful. I tried keeping my hand closed around the treat, and he did stop chewing on it pretty quickly, but when I tried to reward him for that he took a big chomp again.
  • He's pretty enthusiastic about counter surfing. The first day we had a very hard time keeping his nose off the dinner table when we were eating (probably should have crated him, but oh well). However, some firm 'no's the second day, and he kept away from my dinner while I ate on the couch (slob that I am), so I think that may be fixable, at least while someone is watching.
  • He will go in his crate if you put his food or a treat in there first, but he's leery of it. He very much dislikes being crated where he can't see anyone. Being in sight of Kumi relaxes his somewhat, but he still whines when you leave. He seems to stop pretty quickly though.
  • About that tantrum. He whined when we put him up at first (at the foot of our bed with us in it). It sounded like attention-seeking whining, so we went with the ignore it route. I fell asleep before he stopped, but according to M, he did. Then around 3 am, he started up again, and kept at it through some pretty solid ignoring. We thought it might be a bathroom issue, so we let him out to go outside. He immediately tried to get into bed with us and was soundly rebuffed for that attempt. When he got back in his crate from the bathroom trip he started crying again. Very loudly, almost screams. Counting both before and after the potty break, he probably whined (loudly) for 45 minutes. At this point, M was tried and wanted to sleep and yelled 'No' it took about three repetitions, but it worked. Then second night we told him no when he started whining a few times, and he was good and quiet all night long. I was really surprised that the reprimand was more effective than the ignoring, but mostly I'm happy that everybody gets to sleep now.
  • At this point he's an odd blend of intensity and softness. He cries in his crate and always wants to know where you are, but it takes a pretty firm reprimand for him to listen. He never seems offended by the reprimand, and seems to listen and learn from it very well once you've gotten through to him. With how hard my voice is, I almost expect him to be cringing and making appeasement signals, but he's very resilient without being unresponsive if that makes sense.
  • A bit of the case study of the above. I was trying to trim his (ridiculously, probably painfully, long) nails. I started trading a treat for letting me hold his paw, and then for letting me clip a nail, releasing the foot after each treat. He very quickly wised up that he wasn't going to let me near his feet treats or no, and was actually getting fairly skittish about me. However, when M held him still so I could just go through and do them all at once, he didn't struggle or whimper at all, and was happy and fine with us both when I had finished.
  • He seemed to enjoy gnawing on a nylabone. At once point, we noticed quite a bit of blood on the bone, and took it away, but didn't see any damage in his mouth - just some blood. The rescue claims chewing so much their gums bleed isn't uncommon for the breed, and he'd been vet-checked with no problems recently. However, the second day we noticed one of his molars in the way back is a dark grey color, and doesn't look right at all. The tooth is so far back that it's hard to see when you're trying to pull his lips open, but visible when he's relaxed and panting. I'm not sure I want to question the vet/rescue this early on, but it doesn't seem like a good thing.
  • He has some antibiotics he's finishing up for an ear infection. He is the easiest dog to give pills to ever. Smear some peanut butter on one end and he gulps it down without a second thought.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Off-leash paradigm shifts, reinforcers, attention, and all that jazz

I've decided I want an off-leash recall by the 4th of July. I've no idea whether that is a reasonable goal or not, but it is helping me focus on actually working with Kumi and not letting it stagnate, so I guess it's a good thing.

Going into this, I thought about the problems we've had working with her outside (which is where off-leash matters, no?). The biggest problem is that she will *not* take treats outside. Things she will work fairly hard for indoors, she will completely ignore while outside. It's like opening her mouth and chewing is too distracting from looking around to be worth her while. I don't know, but treats don't work, and that makes things difficult.

Doing nothing also has no effect. She gets really into standing and watching, so she really doesn't care if we ignore her, or don't move, or what have you.

So, we've already crossed off the 'positive' and 'neutral' training types, and are down to the dreaded negative things. But...going back inside when she does something wrong has been somewhat effective. So is that 'removing the reward' of being outside, or 'introducing an aversive' or...I get so confused when I start to think about it, but it seems to work? I do stay happy when we do it, just 'nope' then 'okay, time to go in' or something like that.

One of the best successes we had was when she was ignoring my directions when trying to get her in the car (she LOVES car trips). We got out to the car, and she wouldn't sit while I opened the door and was generally being a jerk, so I took her back in and did some dishes for a few minutes and tried again. She was SO enthusiastic and SO good - her butt was hitting the ground like, well, I can't really think of a good simile, but normally even her being-good-and-paying-attention-because-I-want-dinner obedience is to yawn and think about it, and slowly lower herself down once the committee has gotten back with a resolution on this 'sit' thing. This time, however, it was more like some crazy border collie who actually *wanted* to do what you said.

So, I'm thinking that maybe I'm not letting her fail often enough? Apparently she does get it, and just knows she can get away with things. Previously I would repeat the commands a few times thinking she might be so focused on the outside she literally didn't hear me. I'd only go in when it was really clear she wasn't paying any attention. Part of this is due to the whole 'negative' thing. I admit I felt bad going in with a plan of setting my dog up to fail so I could bring her back inside as a reinforcer. But...this is changing my perspective.

Anyway, armed with that inspiration, I put her on a long line, and went into the unfenced front yard, expecting to ask her to touch once, have her ignore me and head for the neighbor's yard, and bring her back in.

But, she didn't. She wouldn't walk more than, oh, 8 feet away from me, even with all sorts of coaxing. This is farther than our normal leash allows, but still absolutely in the realm of 'your off-leash dog appears under control'. She was looking away from me, but...she does that, and she didn't seem 'zoned out'.

And she listened to my 'touch'.

She did eventually get distracted by the dog across the street barking, but I felt that was a little unfair. My paradigm shifted again.

Kumi's appallingly bad leash manners always seemed at odds with her impeccably polite house manners. Maybe she would have been good, and just wanted to do it at a farther distance? when relaxing around the house, she normally sits some distance away from people and looks 'out' - maybe that's her mode outside too. Were we being unreasonable asking for a more strict heel?

On the other hand, maybe it's just that the attention work on the shorter leash has paid off more than I realized. Or she's bonded with us more now, and she would have stayed closer now regardless of what training we did.

I don't know anything, but it has made me think.

Monday, February 1, 2010

progress and not

To begin with the not:
We gave up on the 101 things. It seemed to make Kumi very nervous to have me watching her with a reward ready but not giving any commands. Even when I studiously ignored her, she could sense that I was waiting for something, and tended to go into a down stay, watch me intently, and act generally unhappy.

So. That idea went into the bin.

On the other side, we've had pretty decent success with some new tricks. M taught her to roll over (or at least show her belly), and stand in one evening each.

I tried a different technique with teaching her to get the ball. She sometimes plays with it when you toss it, and I spent a while rewarding her when she picks it up. She definetly works better when you give a cue, or lure something. Her default behavior is stillness, which makes it hard to capture things.

Anyway, the reinforcement had two effects - first, she will now almost always go after the ball, and pick it up in her mouth as soon as she catches it when you toss it (previously she would often just push it with her nose or bat it around with her paws like a cat). This is what I was trying to train. Secondly, she drops the ball immediately upon 'yes' - which is not quite what I was going for.

I think from here, I'd like to try to train a retrieve, and possibly a catch - I think the catching is more an issue of her practicing coordination than one of motivation. She will sometimes catch it, but often seems to try, but physically 'miss', so I don't want to discourage her efforts, but I also don't want to train 'pretend to try to catch it'.

In even better news, despite very limited practice due to inclement weather, she's getting much better on the leash. I don't mean she has a perfect heel, or even that she is paying attention to me all the time, but she's stopped pulling so much, and will come back to me and touch upon request about half the time. It still takes her a while most times, and she often smacks my hand with her nose very quickly, and with a disapproving grunt, but she is doing it, which to me is huge. She is at least acknowledging that there is someone on the other end of the leash, and that paying attention to me might help further her interests. This is a big, big change. Now that she knows I'm here, it feels like the rest will be easy (well, at least possible - which before I had doubted). I am looking forward to good weather!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

101 things

Well, the 'pay attention' training has been cut short a bit by the fact that it is darn cold here in the winter (oh YEAH). Of course, she already does fine with it in the house, so it really can't be moved indoors. I've been leaving extra time to load her up when we do go somewhere to give her chances to 'fail' and have to go back in if she's not on good behavior, and she does seem to be making pretty good progress given how little practice we're doing.

But I have a replacement.

I noticed a few days ago that Kumi is convinced that the only things we might ever ask her to do are sit, down, stay and touch. Mostly she just escalates to lying down when she wants something, then looks at us with a confused expression if it doesn't work. For the most part, that's been true so far, but I don't want her brain to get stuck that way, so we're trying something new.

Back in my pre-dog voracious internet reading days I heard of a clicker training exercise called 101 things to do with a box. There's a reasonable summary of it here: http://www.canineuniversity.com/articles/training/train_28.html and some more detailed points here http://www.clickersolutions.com/articles/2001b/101.htm . Basically, you put down an object and mark and reward any interaction with it, possibly shaping a particular behavior, but mostly rewarding creativity and differing responses.

Well, we didn't have a box handy (amazing in this house), so I used one of her nylabones, with the idea that maybe I could work towards something like a retrieve.

Well, we're a long way from retrieve.

I started by wiping a little gravy on the bone to get her going in the right direction. She got rewarded for licking the gravy off, and spontaneously nosed the bone a few times, which also got rewards. She did the nosing thing consecutively a few times, which made me think she might be getting the idea, but didn't continue more than two or three times.

In general, she actually seemed fairly stressed during the exercise. She quickly went (unprompted) to the down, but didn't relax. She was watching me very closely, and panting a little - seemingly nervous about not knowing what to do.

Needless to say, we kept the activity short, but it does seem like a good idea for 'training her to be trained' per-se. I also think next time I'll try to be more active at rewarding just looking at the item in addition to touching it.

Cooincidentally, I discovered a good new reward. We had some leftover thanksgiving gravy in the fridge I wanted to get rid of since we'd eaten the associated turkey, so I let her lick little scoops of it off a spoon. She seemed to like it more than many rewards, it didn't require chewing, and unlike her other high value rewards it didn't get my fingers greasy (or slobbery) since it was all on a spoon. I may try similar things with other soft foods like peanut butter or cream cheese.

In other news, I'm working on her letting me handle her front paws without pulling them away (she let me clip the back ones). Touch, yes, release, food x 10 or so.

I also put the dremel by the back door and am turning it on before I let her out. I was hoping she would run past it while it was on, but that wasn't gonna happen, so we're going slower.

Finally, to help break the 'sit, down, stay, touch' ultimatum I've been brushing her before meals and giving her a scoop when she's stood still for a few strokes rather than asking for tricks. So far she still tries to run away unless I put an arm under her waist, but is getting better about biting the brush and struggling. She also, surprisingly, lets me brush her while she's eating, though I'm not sure if that's a good idea to keep doing or not.