Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Difference A Year Can Make

A lot has happened in the past year.  I got a job as a trainer at Petco.  I quit said job (for reasons I won't go into here.)  Became an assistant for Bea at My Dogs Place.  And unrelated to dog training, have been hired as a teacher at two different music programs.

Fi has made amazing behavioral progress in the past year.  Some of the highlights are:

  • She is able to accept people in our house.  She has allowed my mom, brother, and friends to be in the house, and even pet her.
  • I can take her to public areas without worrying about meltdowns
  • She comes to My Dogs Place with me every Sunday.  Not only does she participate in class with me, but we are slowly teaching her how to socialize with dogs.
  • She will take food from strangers

Above is Fi on the couch with my friend, Jess. 

I just wanted to post this quick update to get the blog moving again.  More to come, soon!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Crate Training

Crate training with Fi is going so well!  In a matter of 5 days she has gone from being scared of the crate, to happily going in, laying down, and letting me close the door.  The first couple of sessions, however, were difficult. The metal tray in the bottom of the crate would make a scary noise when Fi stepped on it, so she would run out of there as fast as possible.  Through counter-conditioning the noise, she was able to tolerate it and could lay down in the crate, but she was clearly still not comfortable with the idea.

Then I had an "Ah-ha" moment!  Since she had layers of bedding in the crate, I could remove the tray altogether. No more scary noise!  In the video below you can see how fast and confidently she now trots into the crate.

This is the first behavior for which I have laid out a detailed training plan, and let me tell you, it pays off!  After the first couple frustrating sessions I decided I would chart out exactly what steps to take so I couldn't get overwhelmed.

The Plan (click for each step):

Head and neck inside crate (no legs)
Paw lift
1 paw in
Other paw lifts while one in crate
2 paws in
Paw lift with 2 paws in crate
1 step forward
2 steps forward
Half body in crate (no hind legs)
1 hind leg move
1 hind leg step
Second hind leg moves
Second hind leg steps
1 hind leg in
Other hind leg moves with 1st in crate
All legs in
Touch crate door
Move crate door half way closed
Close crate door

This is just a short video of the progress we've made.  I'm also working on adding duration to being in the crate.

  • I recommend starting with mat training, as in my previous post. This will speed up the crate training significantly.            
  • Depending on the dog, you may need to take more time for the sit/down in the crate. Because we had already worked on this without the crate, she did it almost immediately.                                                   
  • When you first begin crate training, some dogs will be confident enough to go in the crate if you just toss a treat in there.  Fi was not one of these dogs.  If your dog is more wary of the crate, just click for any movements toward the crate, and shape the behavior gradually.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mat Training

Today I ordered a crate for Fi.  After this week with the in-laws (see previous post), I figured we should have a place that will keep both Fi, and other people safe.  The crate won't arrive for a few days, so I have started some preliminary training.  I'm using a blanket that Fi likes to lay on as a mat that will eventually go inside the crate.  A few weeks ago we began working on mat training with a dog bed, which I will post below.  I am switching to the blanket because Fi has never taken to liking the dog bed (figures).

Because Fi already understood the concept of going to a mat, it was pretty easy to transition over to the blanket. Once I get the crate, I will put the blanket on the metal bottom without the sides and train like that for a while before adding walls to the crate.  Below is the second session with the blanket.  I never cue her to lay down, I just waited for her to do it on her own.  That way I don't have to release her from the down.

Mental Meltdown

I think I may have mentally recovered enough from this week to write a post.  My in-laws came to visit for 4 days this week, and I was very excited for them to meet Fi for the first time.  We had previously had a friend spend 3 days at our house and Fi was great the whole time, so we had no reason to think it would go otherwise with Clint's parents. 

Boy were we wrong! 

I felt we did everything right, I brought Fi outside to meet them instead of them just barging into the house unannounced.  She was timid, but took treats from them and accepted some petting.  We got inside and it was a whole different story.  She barked and growled with ears back and tail between her legs.  We removed her and put her in our bedroom to chill out.  The next day Fi got more comfortable with Dan and Lynne, and we were actually able to go out shopping and leave Fi with Dan alone and it was totally fine.  Later that evening, however, she began to react again, which went on for the rest of their visit.  We kept her in our bedroom whenever Dan and Lynne were in the living room.

I had a complete mental meltdown.  I so badly want a dog who I can take everywhere with me, and hang out with my friends and family.  I could just see all my dreams slipping through my fingers.  It's been one thing after another, but I have to deal with the fact that she's here to stay, and we just have to work through it.

I have a consultation tomorrow with a trainer who specializes in dogs who are reactive/aggressive/have behavioral issues.  I am hoping she turns out to be responsive to my wishes for Fi.  For some reason I always get the impression that trainers talk to me like I don't know anything, or that everything is my fault.  Although I tend to be overly sensitive.

I will post updates about everything as we go.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Medication Meltdown

Having a rescue dog is quite a journey, you never know how they will react to certain situations.  Last week I applied Fi's flea and tick medicine, which consisted of squeezing a tube of liquid down her spine.  She reacted by slinking around with her tail between her legs for the next 12 hours, and not letting me come near her.  Ah, yet another training opportunity.  These are the steps I will take to hopefully make the next experience better.

1. Make taking the tube of medicine out an exciting event.  Show her the tube and give her a treat. Repeat.
2. Touch the tube to her back
3. Move the applicator an inch up her back
4. Increase length of movement
5. Use an eye-dropper or similar applicator to add wetness to the process (go back to step 2 with the added wetness)

The video below is probably the 8th session of a few minutes each.  We have progressed to step 4.

Veterinary Disaster

This past week I took Fi to the vet for a check-up, as she previously had canine influenza and heartworm.  While there I found out that she does NOT like to have her temperature taken. Now, I'm aware that no dog (or human for that matter) likes to have a thermometer inserted in their rectum, but her reaction was over the top.  She ended up having to be restrained and muzzled. The day after the vet visit I began putting together a training plan to counter-condition her to remain calm while having her temperature taken. Click and treat for the following:

1. Touch base of tail lightly (add duration)
2. Wrap hand lightly around base of tail (add duration)
3. Lift tail ever so slightly (add height and duration to tail lift)
4. Gently touch cotton swab underneath the tail (add duration)
5. Gently touch cotton swab to anus (add duration)
6. Gently touch cold/wet cotton swab underneath the tail (add duration)
7. Gently touch cold/wet cotton swab to anus (add duration)

Make sure to only click if the dog remains calm during these steps. If the dog reacts or shies away, it just means you went too fast. Simply go back to where you know the dog will be successful. This may be easier if you have a dog that always holds their tail high, but my dog's tail hangs pretty low when relaxed. Also, be sure to click while your hand is still touching the tail, otherwise they are being rewarded for you letting go of their tail.

I will then repeat these steps in the vets office, with my husband doing it, with the vet assistant doing it, etc.  Obviously the thermometer will eventually have to be inserted, but I don't feel comfortable doing that on my own, so I will have to work with my vet.

The video below is of step 4 and 5.  This is our 5th session of only a couple minutes.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Clicker

What does the clicker do?

A clicker is simply an event marker (also called a bridge).  The trainer uses classical conditioning (think Pavlov's dog experiment) to associate the click with a reward. The click can then be used to mark the exact moment a desirable behavior occurs, bridging the gap between behavior and reward.  This is where operant conditioning steps in. The animal becomes the "operator", learning that their actions affect whether or not they will get a click, and therefor a reward.

Why does the clicker work?

Precision and timing are essential in dog training, and the clicker is the ultimate aid if used correctly.  With clicker training, you can teach complex behaviors by marking small movements in the right direction.  Using a clicker also bypasses the more complex parts of the dogs brain that are necessary to interpret our voice.  Also, unlike the voice, a clicker always sounds the same.  Dogs are able to pick up even the slightest inflections in our voice, be it frustration, fear, or fatigue, which can affect their willingness to learn.

How do I use the clicker?

First you need to charge the clicker. It is easiest to begin with the clicker in one hand and treats in the other (or in a treat pouch or pocket).  Click, wait half a second, then hand the dog a treat.  If you give the treat at the same time you click, the dog only learns that your hand coming toward them predicts the treat, not the click.  After 10 or so repetitions the dog should become visibly excited at the sound of the click.  If they do not alert to the click, the treats may not be reinforcing enough, try real meat or cheese! Once the dog understands the clicker, you can begin clicking when they offer desirable behaviors.


If you have a box clicker, you may want to mute it with a piece of poster tack or tape before using it. They tend to be pretty loud and you don't want to startle your dog.

If you don't have a clicker you can use the lid off a drink bottle that has the "pops up when open" top, or a clicky pen (if it's loud enough to hear clearly), or anything else that makes a short distinct sound.

You can find clickers in almost all pet stores, or order them online.

Use treats that are small and can be eaten quickly.  Ideal training sessions, especially when learning new behaviors, should have a rapid rate of reinforcement. If the treats are too big they slow down learning, and the dog will become full after only a few repetitions.

Remember to take the treats out of their daily food rations so as not to over-feed.