Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Control Unleashed - Week Four

I'm getting behind on writing about Iris' CU class, so now I'm trying to play catch up a bit. Week four was on 3/17. Iris had a GREAT class on week four.

Agility Sequence with Distraction
Here is the sequence Emma had us work on. All of the jumps were at 4 inches and dogs stayed on-leash.

One dog worked on the sequence on the right. At the same time, a second dog went back and forth over the two jumps on the left as a distraction.

Iris did well. She was concerned by the other jumping dog but not overly concerned. She was able to work through it. The fourth obstacle was a pvc ladder, something Iris had never seen before. No problem! Going over the ladder meant walking straight toward Bowser (Aussie), so she was a little worried about that.

One thing Iris has a lot of trouble with was the tunnel. One of the dogs who wasn't working was sitting fairly close to the entrance of the tunnel (the room we're in is small). Emma asked the other dog to move and as soon as she did, Iris had no problem doing the tunnel. I think Iris is more sensitive to things she can see than to sounds (although sounds can be an issue too). If Iris is doing any obstacle other than the tunnel, she can keep an eye on the other dogs. When she's in the tunnel, she has no idea where the other dogs are. I've noticed that sometimes Iris has trouble orienting to sounds, so maybe that why she's so visually focused?

There's A Dog in Your Face
Emma set up a ring gate at the end of two jumps. One dog sat on one side of the ring gate and a second dog went over the two jumps moving in a straight line toward the sitting dog. Iris did much better at this than I expected! When I'm out walking her, she has A LOT of trouble with dogs walking straight towards us. I think having the ring gate as a barrier helped her a lot. Also, she was paired with Bryce (BC), who is one of the dogs that Iris is least reactive to in class. And unlike the dogs we usually encounter when we're out walking, Bryce has very nice leash manners. She wasn't straining on the leash towards Iris.

I was able to have Iris sitting fairly close to the ring gate, but I did keep her facing perpendicular to the ring gate. Bryce walked toward Iris' side, not head on. When Iris was the moving dog, she didn't seem to have any problems.

Scramble Heeling
This game isn't in the CU book. It's something Emma learned when she started doing Competition Obedience with her dogs. Emma had two dogs heel around the room (it didn't have to be perfect competition heeling, Emma told us to use whatever criteria we wanted as long as the dog was on a loose leash). Also, we were supposed to walk in a random pattern around the room. Periodically, Emma would give us instructions to change what we were doing: walk faster, walk slowly, change direction, sit, down, stay, and recall from a stay.

I really like this as a CU game. While walking around, not only do you have to pay attention to where you are and what your dog is doing but also to where the other dog is walking. We've been doing a lot of agility in class because we have a class full of agility dogs. I think it was good for the dogs to work on something a little different. Plus dogs walking around on leash is something you encounter no matter what sport you're doing with your dog. Right now, we only worked on two dogs moving around the room. Ultimately the goal would be to have all of the dogs in class moving around at once.

Iris did really well with scramble heeling. The Golden was the other dog heeling with Iris, and usually he's challenging for her (he's big and bouncy!) But she did great.

More Agility
We had a little bit of time at the end of class, so Emma had all of the dogs run the agility sequence with no distractions. She wanted to give all the dogs a chance to loosen up bit and it gave the rest of the class a chance to practice relaxing while one dog was running. Iris again had trouble going into the tunnel with another dog nearby. This time, Emma wanted us to work through it. She had me ask Iris to hand target near the tunnel entrance. Each time I asked Iris to target, I moved my hand a little further into the tunnel. After asking her to target inside the tunnel entrance a few times, I tried sending her into the tunnel again. Success! My little red dog was able to work through it! It was also a great example of how breaking something down into really small steps will help Iris succeed if she's stressing out.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Purple for Epilepsy

Toby's Foundation is sponsoring Purple Day on Friday, March 26.

Founded in 2008, by nine-year-old Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia, Canada, with the help of the Epilepsy Association of Nova Scotia, Purple Day is an international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide. On March 26, people from around the globe are asked to wear purple and spread the word about epilepsy.

Epilepsy affects over 50 million people worldwide. That's more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease combined. (from the Purple Day homepage)

Same disease, different species.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


This past week, it seems like the weather has really turned to spring. Knock on wood, I hope it stays this way. Today felt more like May than March. Nice weather really only means one thing: sheep! We haven't had any herding lessons since last fall. During our last lesson, it was really difficult to motivate Iris to work sheep. She acted very stressed and did a lot of sniffing.

It seems like the winter off did a lot of good. Iris was like a different dog. She was very interested in the sheep. We started the lesson with driving and praising Iris for any interest in the sheep. We had plenty of interest! Woo-hoo! Then Diane had me drop the leash to work on get around. Iris did really well. She was definitely working better than last fall. There were still times when she would go off to sniff. Diane noticed that if the sheep stop moving, Iris thinks her job is done and she quits. So we need to work on keeping her interested in the sheep even when they're still.

Diane wanted to get Iris to hold the sheep against the fence behind me. We want her to learn that keeping sheep still is as much a part of the game as moving sheep around. One problem I kept having was if Iris started sniffing (or eating sheep poo, snacking seemed to be a priority for her today) and I went over to her to get her moving again, she'd take that opportunity to dive straight back into the sheep. Brat. Diane had me lean a couple extra rakes against the barn so I could toss one at Iris if she started snacking. That way I wouldn't have to walk over to her to get her moving again. Iris was not phased at all by the tossed rakes. I think she lifted her head up to look at the first one. Then she didn't care. Diane didn't want me to move too much because if I started moving, the sheep would follow me. We don't want moving sheep to be the cue for Iris to work. Being in the pen with the sheep regardless of whether or not they're moving should mean work. Diane came in the pen and she got Iris to move when I stood with the sheep. We finally had success! Something clicked in her brain. I think once Iris understood what I wanted, she actually did a really good job moving back a forth in front of me to keep the sheep in once place. She even put back one sheep that started to break. Good girl!

Then Iris got a break and Diane brought one of her dogs out to show me how I can practice having Iris move away from the rake at home. We also talked about using a food bowl to work on "walk up" and "out." I bought a small rake, so we'll definitely have to practice. Somewhere in with all the homework for the CU class! I also got a chance to see Diane's lambs. There aren't too many animals that are cuter than a lamb.

I brought Iris back out and we worked on "get around" again. Diane pointed out that if I started cheerleading Iris right as she started slowing down, she'd get interested again. If I was too late with my praise, Iris would start to check out and then I'd be praising her for quitting. Timing is important!

After the lesson, I was chatting with Diane and she mentioned that all her dogs were in the house during Iris' lesson so none of them were barking. Maybe in the past, the other dogs have been too stimulating for Iris? It's something we'll have to keep in mind in the future. This was definitely the best lesson Iris has had in a while! We go back in two weeks. Hopefully this beautiful weather will keep up!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Control Unleashed - Week Three

Off-Switch With Obstacles
The first thing we worked on was more off-switch practice, but this time we also added the excitement of obstacles. Emma had two 4" jumps, a tunnel and a low table set up. One at a time, the dogs did one obstacle, played tug for 15-30 seconds, then the handler stopped the game and waited for the dog to offer a default behavior (everyone in class is using either sit or down). Because playing dogs are a big trigger for Iris, she's getting lots of practice playing Look at That! She's doing pretty good. Definitely getting a little stressed but not to the point of barking. When it was Iris' turn to do the obstacle and then play, she pretty much refused to play. Emma pointed out that Iris seems very concerned about being in the middle of the room with dogs on all sides. Thinking about it, in Iris' agility classes the dogs were always on only one side of the room when Iris was in the middle. It was less for her to worry about. Going directly toward another dog, even if the other dog is stationary, is also a lot harder for Iris than moving parallel or away from the dog.

Next, Emma had each dog preform two obstacles, play, then offer the default. This time I didn't try to get Iris interested in the toy. I asked her to do some hand targeting because that's usually one of her favorites, but even that was hard for her.

Emma raised the criteria one more time and had the dogs do three obstacles, play, then get the default. For some dogs in class, the exercise is definitely about learning to get revved up and then settle down again quickly. For Iris, I think it's really about being able to be around other dogs who are getting revved up. Also, even just getting her to move into the middle of the room to play LAT with me was a bit challenging for her this week.

Doggie Zen / Leave It
Next we worked on the next step of Doggie Zen / Leave It. To practice this, we put a treat on the floor and then waited for the dog to give eye contact before rewarding. Once the dog is comfortable with you placing the treat on the floor, you can begin tossing the treat on the floor. In the book, Leslie suggests using your foot to cover the treat if the dog tries to go for it. For some dogs who were really excited about the treats, Emma had us toss the treat just out of the dog's reach and then wait for eye contact (sort of a cross between Doggie Zen and Leave It).

One thing we talked about in class was how you really have three options for rewarding your dog after tossing the treat on the floor. You can give the dog a release (such as "take it") to go get the treat, you can pick the treat up and then give it to your dog, or you can give your dog a different treat and never allow her to have the one on the floor. Emma said she doesn't really think it matters which method you choose. I was thinking about it and I might practice with all three so Iris really learns to pay attention me to find out where the reward is coming from.

Emma also talked about putting Leave It on cue and whether or not you really want to. Emma trains her dogs that when they find food on the floor, they should automatically make eye contact. She doesn't use a cue. In some ways, that makes a lot of sense. Especially when I was living the apartment complex, I had to be really careful about Iris grabbing things off the ground because the kids were so bad about leaving old food around. On the other hand, I like to be able to toss treats as a reward because Iris isn't very toy motivated. So I'm leaning toward using a cue.

Start Line Stays
Last we worked on start line stays. In the book, Leslie says that a lot of dogs she sees in her CU classes don't have a start line stay. The dogs get way too revved up or stressed out to be able to stay, so she teaches it in CU as part of learning self control. Iris has never had a problem with her start line stays. I think Katrin emphasizes start line stays right from the beginning in her classes, so Iris had one of the best stays in CU class.

In class, Emma had us put the dog in a sit in front of the jump, take a step away, step back, and reward. Then, take two steps away, go back and reward. The dogs learn that staying in position will get rewarded (and it that taking the jump isn't the only way to get rewarded). I think we've done this game before!

Overall, Iris seemed stressed out during class. I think starting class off with dogs playing definitely raised her anxiety level to begin with.


In other news, Iris made it to five weeks and one day between seizures. Damn it. It really seems like her trigger is time. Her schedule is so regular.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

CU Homework

I want to have some notes on how we're working on the CU exercises at home and how Iris is progressing. In a few weeks, I'd like to have something to look back on so here's where we're at now.

Look at That
This isn't something we've had much opportunity to really practice. There are no strange dogs walking around my living room. Well, there is one strange dog in my living room. But I need a second strange dog for practicing. I really need to make the commitment to take Iris out where we'll encounter other dogs that are not reactive. I'm amazed at the number of dogs in the condo complex (and the apartment complex too) that are very reactive and are NOT being managed by their owners. It's not a good situation for training Iris in. While I think she's at the point where she'll handle another dog walking past, she's not at the point where she'll handle another dog exploding and straining at the end of the leash. My homework for next weekend is to get out and go somewhere that Iris can succeed at LAT practice!

Default Behavior
I've been thinking a lot about this one. When I first got Iris, she was TERRIBLE about shaping. She would literally sit and stare at me without moving a muscle. She could handle luring but if I wasn't really actively helping her out, she got stuck in a sit. My first reaction was that I don't want to train a default behavior. It's been a lot of work convincing Iris not to just sit and stare, and she still isn't always great at shaping. She gets frustrated very easily and defaults to "sit still and make eye contact." After re-reading the section in the book on default behaviors, I've decided I am going to train a default behavior but not in a "formal" training session. I'm just going to have to carry treats around with me all the time and reward Iris when she offers the default (in this case, I am going to use a sit). For example, if I'm getting Iris' dinner ready and she happens to sit, she gets a reward. If I'm putting my shoes on and she happens to sit, she gets a reward. Hopefully, that will avoid the "stuck in a sit" problem during training sessions.

Whiplash Turn
We've had a really hard time working on this. We've only tried it a couple of times, and I've ended up cutting the session short because I'm getting frustrated. Not productive for either of us. What's happening is I toss the treat, Iris eats the treat, I say her name, Iris continues to look for crumbs, and only turns back to me she's decided she's done sniffing around. I think I need to do something similar to what I'm doing with the default behavior. If I walk into a room and say "Iris" she turns and looks at me. I think I need to make a point of always rewarding that rather than tossing treats. I need a wristband to attach my clicker to! The possibility of food on the floor is too exciting right now. The other thought I had was using two different treats for the tossing food method. Toss a really low value treat so she'll turn away from me to eat it, say her name, and give her really high value treat when she turns toward me.

Doggie Zen (Leave It)
Iris already knows the Doggie Zen game and does it without any problem. In the CU book, Leslie uses Doggie Zen as the beginning of Leave It. Iris' leave it is only mediocre. She'll do it for something low value but not something high value. We might be jumping ahead a little bit, but I started working on some of the Leave It exercises in the book. Right now, I can drop one treat and she'll leave it. I think the next thing I'm going to try is dropping the single (low value) treat outside of a training session. She knows when we're playing the "leave it" game. I'd like to work on her leaving it even when she doesn't think she's supposed to be "working."

Go to Mat
I've been working on moving Iris' mat to various places around the house and at work. She's done really well at home and had a little trouble with it at work. She really loves her mat now! After we finished practicing the other day, I got a phone call and forgot to pick up the mat. I looked over and Iris was patiently sitting her mat waiting for her next cookie. A few minutes later, I looked over again and she'd fallen sound asleep on her mat. Silly girl!

I honestly haven't gotten the chance to work on this at home with her. It's sort of a low priority for me because Iris isn't highly toy motivated. It's tough to rev her up with a toy so usually once I get her playing I like to keep her involved in the game. Although now that I'm thinking about it, I'm wondering if this exercise would actually help build some toy motivation as well.

When I adopted Iris, she would bolt out doors. Since Iris also really wants to chase cars, I had to do something to stop her from bolting out the door whenever anyone opened it. I trained her to stop and make eye contact until I say "okay" before going through doorways. It worked really well to stop the door bolting. The problem is that when I release Iris to go through the doorway, I completely lose her attention. I think I need to reframe the game. I'd like her stop and make eye contact before AND after going through a doorway. Because Iris has been practicing "make eye contact, go through door, stop paying attention to mom" for years, she's had trouble with the new rules. However, we have to go through two door to get outside of the condo so we have plenty of opportunity to practice.

Looking over these notes, I realized how much I have to make this stuff part of our daily life. A lot of this isn't things that I can work on only as part of training session. It's things I need to be aware of working on as we go through our daily activities.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Control Unleashed - Week Two

The class is down to five dogs - two BCs, two Aussies, and a Golden. The 6th dog transferred to another class. The BC who was very reactive last week gets the award for most improved. The owner has clearly been spending a lot of time working with her dog. She mentioned they were doing private lessons in addition to CU class. It's definitely paying off!

We started class with massage again. Iris was much more relaxed this week than she was last week. For the rest of class, one dog was working (or two for parallel games) and the other dogs were on their mats either working on attention or "Look at That."

Parallel Games
The first thing we worked on was parallel games. Emma had two rows of jumps set up (one row was three jumps, and the other row was two jumps and a table) parallel to each other. The jumps were set at 4 inches, so all the dogs in class just could just step over them. The dogs all stay on-leash.

The first time we went, Emma had one dog start earlier than the other so we weren't exactly parallel. Next, we turned around and Emma had the dogs start together, so we were actually walking next to the other dog. I had Iris on the outside with myself between her and the other dog. She really didn't seem bothered by the dog walking parallel to her. I think the jumps helped because she had something to think about. Walking back was definitely harder for her because we were walking straight toward the dogs who weren't working. When Iris started to get stressed, Emma had us pause and play the "Look at That" game until Iris started focusing again. Each dog got to go down and back twice.

Next we worked on the off-switch game. The purpose is for the dog to learn how to alternate between being revved up and then settling down quickly. Emma had a box of ring gates set up and each dog went in individually to work on this game. We were supposed to rev our dogs up by playing with them for 30 seconds. Then we'd stop playing and either wait for the dog to offer the default behavior or ask for the behavior we want to be the default (depending on the dog). As soon as the dog settled down and offered the default, we started playing again. The reason for the second round of play was so that the game wasn't ending after the dog offered the default. A fast was to ruin a good behavior is to have it mean the end of fun things! After another 30 seconds, Emma had us end the game, giving a release word in a neutral and uneventful tone.

Other dogs playing is a huge trigger for Iris. I moved her away from the ring-gate box and worked on LAT while the other dogs played. She did a pretty good job. She did do a little bit of quiet woofing and huffing but not actually exploding. I could get her focused again pretty quickly.

When it was Iris' turn to play, she refused to touch the toy. I brought her tuggy-fox to class, which is usually a favorite at home but I've never gotten her to tug in class before. Actually, I think the only toy she's ever played with in class is her screaming monkey (thank you Julie!) Screaming monkey is really her favorite, but I was worried about monkey being too much noise for the other dogs in CU class. Off-switch is something we'll have to practice at home.

Most people used a toy for tug, but the Golden's owner did some gentle wresting with him. They were actually really interesting to watch. The Golden wasn't mouthy at all and he was clearing having a blast. We talked about different ways of playing with our dogs. Emma asked us to think about different ways to play with our dogs, whether we really needed a toy or not, and could we use a toy or game to distract our dogs from a situation if we needed to. She mentioned that being able to play with your dog without a toy can be a really good and useful way of engaging (and distracting) your dog if you need to.

Emma set up two ring gates with a gap in the middle to make a "doorway." Emma had us take a step forward and then wait quietly for the dog to reorient ("reorient" depended on the dog. For some dogs, it was looking up and making eye contact. If a dog was really distracted, it could be just turning an ear toward the handler). We'd c/t for reorienting and after the dog reoriented a couple of times, take a step forward and repeat the process.

Emma wanted us to make sure we didn't have anything in our hands and our hands were down by our sides. She didn't want us luring the dog's attention (so the dog isn't thinking "I'm only supposed to pay attention to mom when she has food!" It should be that you're acting not very exciting and then treats appear for reorienting!)

Iris had a lot of trouble with this. The ring gates were in the center of the room and Iris started to stress as soon as I wasn't actively engaging her. She kept giving the deep little woofs at the other dogs. Not exploding but definitely treading right on her threshold line. She did manage to reorient to me a couple of times.

Mat Races (more Parallel Games)
The last thing we did was mat races, which is basically another form of the parallel game from the beginning of class. The same as before, we did this two dogs at a time. This time we had the dogs' mats at one end of the room and had to run to the mat from the other side of the room. When we got to the mats, the dogs had to down on the mat. Iris did really well with this. I didn't get her running, we just did a really fast walk. The other dog was running and Iris did manage to keep her attention mostly on me. I think by this point in the class she was starting to get a little brain-fried, so I didn't want to push it too hard.

Overall, it was a really good class. Iris was a little more tense than she was last week, but there was also a lot more moving around this week.