Archive for May, 2012

2-minute dog trainer – weekly classes

May 26, 2012

In my May 11 post I described, in as much detail as was possible, our ideas for the end of our “training center” phase and the beginning of our “social club” phase.

It’s interesting to look back over my life and divide it by phases.

In 1998 my married-lady-working-40-hours-a-week phase ended with a bang. My 15-year relationship with my husband gave up the ghost without a whimper. I never knew anyone could care so little about a marriage as my ex.

Regardless, life marched on and I met a man who shared my interest in positive reinforcement dog training in general, and dog agility in particular.

We have fun together, have the same sick sense of humor, can vent to each other without worrying, and understand each other.

So the dog-training-center-facilitator phase of my life began April 1999. At Dogwood Training Center we averaged 120 students, with another 200 campers who visited for a week at a time.

In 2007 we considered semi-retirement, and my parents needed more attention from me, so we sold Dogwood and moved to Watertown, Ohio.

Our plan was to do a few camps each year, do a lot of writing and travel with our dogs, and slow down a little. We began our family-first-with-lots-of-writing phase.

Dog agility exhibitors in our area asked us to open our building for classes. We’ve averaged between 10 and 15 students since then, requiring a bit of work but nowhere near the effort required by our central Ohio site.

We have one more weeknight group class. Then we enter our TDAA-management-and-training-our-puppies phase.

Here’s how I see it working for us.

Every Monday or Tuesday Bud will set equipment in the training building and establish 3-4 training sequences which he’ll print out and post in the building.

On Tuesday evenings Phoenix and I will go to the building to do some “2-minute-dog-training” — working on obstacle performance and the specific skills a fast little dog with a slow old handler needs. If anyone wants to join us an play along, that’s okay.

On Wednesday evenings Kory and Phoenix will go to the building to do some sequence work — honing the more complex skills needed as Kory (AX AXJ) approaches his USDAA Masters titles. Phoenix and I will join them on little bits of sequences.

The rest of the week people will come and go, playing with their dogs on sequences designed by Bud, or of their own creation.

Here’s how I see it working for our local students.

Students who choose to become Board Members get access to the building and grounds, plus either or both nights of training at no additional charge. We hope they’ll help us maintain the public areas of the property.

Students who choose to be regular Members get access to the building and grounds, plus kick in a few bucks if they want instruction.

We’ll continue offering a few private camps each year. We have lots of fun with our friends from around the country. And our cottages provide sleeping quarters for folks traveling a distance and wanting private lessons.

We’ll be answering lots of questions, obviously. My basic response is “we no longer have a dog training center.” Everything else will work itself out.

Phoenix approaches age 6 months.

Phoenix has been with us 3 months. He’s been a clever little boy, interested in offering all sorts of favorite behaviors for food, for toys, for attention.

His mealtime training includes 2-on-2-off contact performance, distance sends through a series of hoops to a jump, and some sequences requiring that he follow my movement.

Every afternoon I try to break away from paperwork to play with him. We’re working on his formal retrieve and he’s currently chasing the dumbbell and bringing it back to dump it in my right hand. We’re also going to the training building occasionally to work on the more advanced equipment. He’s developed independent performance of the full-size a-frame, the skinnier dogwalk (not the full-size one yet), and the full-size teeter.

I’ve noticed he indicates lack of confidence by simply avoiding an obstacle, but he can be encouraged to be brave with food, toys, or attention.

He’s a typical border collie. He loves his baby pool, his big brothers, and stretching out on the couch.

I’m so lucky to have found him, though we have no idea of his heritage.

I love him intensely.

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2-minute dog trainer – consistent reinforcement

May 10, 2012

If someone were to quote “Marsha-isms” I hope one they would choose is my favorite —

“Most dog training problems, and most dog behavior issues, are the result of ill-timed or inconsistent reinforcement.”

Dogs learn through reinforcement.

The more often they’re right, the more frequent the reinforcement for the right behavior, the faster they learn.

The smart dog trainer makes sure her dog is right 95% or more of the time.

Some unwanted behaviors are self-rewarding so the clever trainer must install the replacement behavior before the puppy discovers the unwanted behavior.

Regardless of whether it’s an agility performance or house manners, responsibility for the dog’s behavior sits firmly on the shoulders of the trainer.

My puppy cannot behave in a manner I’ve not taken the time to train.

Phoenix has two behaviors in class that really annoy me. More because they point out my shortcomings as a trainer than any other reason.

Let me start by saying he has no natural impulse control. I’m teaching him, incident by incident, how to control his puppy impulses.

At class last night he had a couple of out-of-control moments which embarrassed me slightly, and put some things on the top of my “to do list.”

1) Phoenix barks in his ex-pen when other dogs run, and when our students are excited and are encouraging their dogs. It’s just a matter of over-stimulation on his part, but I’ve not spent the time encouraging quiet.

2) When Phoenix wants to visit people and dogs he likes, my recall is worthless. I work on recall  occasionally, but need to put more emphasis on it because it is truly NOT reliable. He approaches people and dogs as if everyone wants to be his new best friend (sorry Crystal <g>).

So, in the first instance, I’ve not established enough reinforcement for the replacement behavior (quietly lying down in his ex-pen while other dogs are running).

In the second instance, I’ve not conditioned an immediate response to my recall.

Oh yeah, and he jumps up on people. And most people reinforce that. So my work at sitting-for-petting-and-attention must get more focus.

Topdog Agility Players agility club

Beginning June 1st our training center will be transitioning to a club where our agility friends can come and play, and work, and train, and even teach!

We’re not so much “closing the training center” as discontinuing classes, rosters, paperwork, and e-mail reminders.

When we become a social club we have a few expectations:
1. we’ll get assistance with responsibility and maintenance, OR
2. we’ll have less public appearance maintenance
3. we’ll grow a few new (and amazing) agility instructors, as
we’ll be allowing our members to run their own classes
4. our members will have incentive to invite members
5. we’ll spend time and effort commensurate with income

Members will have access to our instruction (Bud’s on Wednesdays, mine on Tuesdays) and we’ll still have occasional workshops. Members will have unlimited access to the training building and fields.  We’ll expect them to assume some responsibility over their training goals.

It’s all about consistent reinforcement, after all.

Bud’s been teaching agility classes for 20 years. I’ve been teaching obedience and agility for 18 years. In 2012 about 90% of our reinforcement (reward) comes from non-agility-class activities.

We’re hoping this transition allows all of us to train our dogs and have fun doing dog-related activities, gets us some assistance keeping up the public appearance of the agility building and surrounding zone, and spreads some of the responsibility associated with lesson plans, rosters, and e-mail updates.

Or maybe it will still be just Bud and I maintaining a 60×120 pole barn and parking lot, and playing with our dogs.

Some folks object to change of any sort, so it remains to be seen what the response will be to our plan.

2-minute dog trainer, Phoenix at 5 months

May 4, 2012

Phoenix occasionally joins my beginner agility class as a demo dog. His drive is lovely, though his youth is evident in his desire to visit with the other friendly handlers and dogs.

Phoenix has a bro-mance with “Bear,” a 7-month-old Aussie, and an affection for “Lisa,” a sweet little Icelandic Sheepdog.

He’s starting to attend my recall faster and faster, and we continue to work on recall skills for 1-2 meals a week.

In addition to his mealtime training on the contact trainer, and on the 30-foot dead-away send through hoops and jumps, Phoenix has begun three new training protocols.

Start-line stays

First, using the same line of hoops and jumps where we practice our “send,” we’re practicing start-line stays.

I believe I’ve created a unique start-line stay philosophy and training protocol — I’ve seen no one else addressing it in the following manner.

My philosophy is that dogs generally do not “break their start-line stay.” Instead, what they actually do with great frequency, is “anticipate the release to do agility.”

If I examine my dogs’ behaviors at the start line, and compare it with training for an obedience recall, I see two ways a dog may fail the exercise: 1) breaking the stay, leaving the task, putting nose down and sniffing, wandering off, and losing interest, OR 2) anticipating the release to follow me, or simply “jumping the gun.”

As a trainer using positive reinforcement, my responses to these two failures are distinctly different. If I treat anticipation the same as I do lack-of-interest, my training will be the biggest failure.

My training for “jumping the gun,” or anticipating the release to do agility, involves three elements.

I wish to reward the dog for staying, and will reward tiny stay performances at first, building consistently and in tiny increments with each training session.

My negative punishment (removal of reward and attention in order to extinguish behavior) for anticipating involves the absence of the reward, and having to return to the original position.

The third element of the start-line stay, and one I believe is unique to my start-line stay training, is the idea that the dog learning to stay in front of a jump, tunnel, dogwalk, whatever, must NEVER be released to that obstacle during start-line training.

Instead, I cue the “stay,” leave the dog, walk around the jump (or tunnel, or dogwalk, whatever), return to my dog’s side, reward the dog for the stay, and then release him to another, nearby, obstacle.

I want to establish in my dog’s mind the tiniest doubt that the course is going to progress in the direction of the obstacle in front of which they’re staying.

I want my dog to look to me for direction always, not assume and anticipate.

He’s able to stay while I leave his side, circle one jump or hoop, and return to his side to feed him his dinner. At first he was quite distracted and hyperactive but, once he was successful on a couple of short stays, he started catching on.

With stays I try to remind my students constantly that dogs learn through their successes so, the more successful they are, the faster they learn.

Retrieves (formal and play)

I must admit, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE training retrieves, both play retrieves and formal (aka obedience dumbbell) retrieves.

When I started training Banner (my Novice A obed/agil dog)  to retrieve in 1998, I met Sue Sternberg and was introduced to her inducive retrieve methodology. She left me with a charming self-published training brochure, with hand-drawn pictures of the trainer and dog.

Banner picked up on the training so quickly I swore I’d never use another method for training the retrieve.

Last week Phoenix started learning the inducive retrieve. The methodology is to position a treat behind the bar on the dumbbell, and the dog has to “go through” the dumbbell, touching or grasping with teeth, in order to get to the treat.

In his first 5-minute session Phoenix showed me he’s a fun guy willing to offer all sorts of behaviors which make no sense to him. He quickly started putting his teeth on the dumbbell, then grabbing it out of my hand, staying engaged and focused the whole time.

In his second 5-minute session he progressed to picking it off the floor and swinging his head, with the dumbbell still in his mouth, toward me.

In his third 5-minute session he progressed to chasing it when I tossed it 4-6 feet away, picking it off the floor, and returning partway to me with the dumbbell.

Tonight, in his fourth 5-minute session he progressed to sitting while I tossed the dumbbell 10 feet away, going after it when I said “get it!”, picking it up and bringing it all the way back to my hand.

WHEEEEE!!!   Awesome.  Mommy is VERY pleased.

For his play retrieve I began with generally conditioning him to put his mouth on various toys. When he brings the toy back to me I immediately toss it again. When he fails to bring the toy back I follow him, take the toy, put it away, and end the game.

Now, a month since I began this subtle training, I try to not over-do the play retrieve because I want to end the game while he still eager and willing to play.

Now that he’s mostly conditioned to the play retrieve, I can begin using a toss of the toy as his reward for agility performance, knowing he’ll return to me with the toy.

Sequencing (running with me)

I’m incredibly excited about Phoenix’s temperament and biddability. He’s learning everything very quickly.

But the most impressive thing about Phoenix is the calm intensity with which he follows my movement between agility obstacles.

He doesn’t bark or carry on. He leaves the start line focused and in high drive. He turns on a dime whether presented with a front cross, back cross, blind cross, whatever.

My beginner class is made up of three dogs, including Phoenix. We have plenty of time to put together and practice rather long sequences. The equipment is jammed pretty tightly into the 30×60 space.

My students are GOOD students. They try to do their homework, they listen to instructions, they watch me demonstrate, they absorb the philosophical discussion, and we progress quickly.

Four weeks ago, Phoenix was coming out of his crate for a couple of 2-minute demonstrations each class.

Two nights ago he spend nearly 45 minutes out of his crate, engaged in agility play (and flirtation).

His ability, at 5 months, to follow my movement on sequences, is breathtaking for me. Couple that with bold, fearless, obstacle performance, and you can imagine the fun I’m having.

I often think fondly of Tempest, and miss him every day, but Phoenix is providing me with a new agility life.

I would love to get comments from my regular readers! Tell me how your training is going, what suggestions you’ve tried with your own dogs, or how you’ve modified a protocol to suit your needs. Comments please!