Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Dog in Sight - Success!

Or Day 2 of McDonalds, you are my hero. I stopped by on my way home from work and got two double cheeseburgers from the dollar menu - one so I could have lunch before I got home and the second for Toby's walk today. I took him out to the track and the moment he figured out that cheeseburger was on the list of rewards I had, I couldn't lose him. Which was great. I got to reinforce a lot of eye contact and working with me out somewhere different.

Then I spotted a dog. It was outside of the fenced in track and a across the street. All in total, the dog was a good 80 feet away, if not a little more. A nice place to start. So I started asking him to look in that general direction and then back at me for some more cheeseburger. He liked that game. Then he saw the dog and instantly took four steps away from me as he focused in. Because of course, at the same time he noticed the dog, said dog took off at a dead run around and around a parked car. Hmm... not good. I know him, if I move into him he'll move away from me. We were definitely slightly over his threshold of what he can handle too... not much. He was still there. I could see his ears flick back when I talked to him and he wasn't 'frozen' yet... So I started moving backwards. I told him let's go and moved out to the end of the 50 foot. If he went over board and I needed to drag him away I didn't want to have to deal with rope burn if the rope slipped in my grip. I told him "Let's Go!" again, all cheerful and patting my leg. His ears flicked and that was it.

So I started moving out to the side, called it one last time and his ears flicked back to me and this time the rest of his body followed. He trotted up to me, a few whines when he reached me, but wow! My mind was already into the management mode... I never expected him to be able to turn away and walk 50 ft of line away from a dog. I partied and fed him bits of the cheeseburger for awhile, all the while telling him just how amazing I thought he was. He's such a special boy. He did glance back several times while we were still there but the dog had left and Toby was willing to keep working with me. Great!

I do need to find locations that I can safely desensitize him to other dogs. Todays was rather safe. There weren't any holes on that line of fence... but the distance wasn't easily adjustable because if we'd moved back too much farther you couldn't see the dog because the track is set up 10 feet higher than the street on that side. That and that's the first time I've seen that dog there. I do think I have an idea... at the college I go to there is a loop of the city walking path around the small lake there. Right by the main entrance for the loop is a large hill. I'm thinking of taking him there some nights and sitting way up on the top of the hill (about 150-200 feet from the path) and starting some work there. It's just random when dogs go by... so we could be up there for a half hour one night and see none and then 10 the next night. But it's the first time that I've seen anywhere around here that might actually work.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

McDonalds - You Are My Hero

For today at least. Since I'd run out of the 'good stuff' on yesterday's walk I knew I needed some thing to bring along for today. So I pulled into the drive through at McDonalds and got the 4 piece Chicken Nuggets off the dollar menu and headed home. By the time I was ready to leave for the walk Toby had 'seemingly' (whoever knows with this dog) forgotten about the chicken nuggets my pockets were smelling like. I had him reorient at the front door and we headed out on our walk. We were about half way down the block before he had his first check in and I tossed him his first bit of a nugget.

It was a "Hey there mom!" kind of notice. He flipped right over to my side for a few more "Yes!" and tidbits before his brain remembered we were on a walk and to ignore me. I did a few pauses and name recalls for some rewards as we continued on. The walk went very smoothly for us both. He checked in frequently the whole walk - to the point where I used all four nuggets down to the last crumb. Tomorrow I'll stop and grab a plain hamburger on the way home. He loves those.

I've had a few light bulb moments today... one of which being how to try handling the times he gets over threshold. On Mondays and Tuesdays right now, driving somewhere for a walk isn't something I can do (especially not this week! Finals! eek). So we have to do the neighborhood circuit. But that means that he has to deal with the distractions this poses... including the variety of outdoor cats and the dogs he spots on our walks. (He's memorized their common locations... xD). One thing I do know... is that once he's staring off somewhere, putting tension on the lead to continue on - or drag him on if he's glazing over just makes things worse. Talking to him as I normally would is ineffective. And getting excited or something to distract him sets him over the edge. So what to do?

So I decided to try something today... it doesn't work once his eyes have glazed over and he's gone or has already lunged. But for today, when he started staring off at whatever he thought he saw (I saw nothing...) I leaned down, patted my legs and cheerfully told him "Let's go!" When he came I gave him several little tidbits and continued on. Hmm... I tried it again and it worked again. Either this is a breath through in our training or he's relaxing slightly while watching.

We did a lot of eye contact work this morning for his breakfast so that also might have helped. I'll have him do another batch tomorrow morning as well. Day 2 of the Relaxation Protocol tonight before bed and then I get to snooze while figuring out how to pass another final tomorrow. I'm exhausted. I know he's improved a lot and our walk today was downright cheerful. By golly though, maybe I should name my next dog Easy? Just for good luck.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Trip to the Duck Pond

I planned on taking him out to the college and letting him run around in the field in front of that today and then touring the campus. However, the sprinklers were on this morning so we had a change of plans. I took him to the duck pond across the street. Definitely not something I'd do if there were babies on the ground, but right now it's only the start of breeding season and as long as you give everyone their space the birds stay happy. It's actually a rather large place, with a nice sized field on one side of the pond and then up behind it and the Children's Day Care there is another small lake with a play ground and park over there. Lots of places to walk. I took the camera along and got some rather nice pictures. The birds are all used to people and let you get pretty close. I did risk getting any closer than 20-30ft with Toby along, but they didn't pay either of us any mind for the most part.

I can't put up all of the pictures for today, but here are some...

When we first started we walked in the field next to the pond. There was another small pond in the middle of the field (really tiny) and I let Toby nose around in the grass. It was weird... because he could have easily disappeared into the brush, he blended in so well.

We were just off some main roads and people use the area frequently. Next time we go I'm taking some bags to pick up some of the litter... it was just sad. But I got a nice shot of Toby standing when some car horns started blaring from the road behind us.

After we looped around behind the Day Care (closed on Sundays) we headed off to the small field by the small little lake and practiced some obedience. He was such a good boy.

Then we wandered over to some of the birds swimming in the small lake and I got to take some nifty pictures.

And what was Toby doing while I took these pictures?

As fascinating as he finds the birds, he doesn't consider them prey. He watched them quite a bit when we walked past the main pond, his favorite parts being when the birds would land in the water. But for the most part he just relaxed and enjoyed the day, rolling around while I took some good pictures.

Of course, when he discovered I'd let him go right up and sniff the water (I wouldn't let him drink out of it... I carry water for us to drink, I don't need him catching something and who knows what's been dumped in that water), he was more than willing. He really wanted to go swimming with the birds but I was leery about what was in the water... it really stunk. So he just got to sniff the edges. All was going fine until one of the geese decided Toby was a little to close for comfort and started honking really loud at him.
See the extended head on the goose in there? Yeah he was screaming at Toby. Toby wasn't too sure what to make of that. I called his name and for a moment he didn't come, but when the goose started to turn towards him he decided it was best to leave the bird in peace and came barreling up to me.

Here is the main pond. We were resting on the other side of it (my car was up by the building on the other side), waiting for someone to leash their dog. I understand getting your dog some exercise - shoot, we were there for that reason - but letting your dog plow through and chase and bark at all the birds? That's just rude. And I'd hate to see what would happen if the dude decided to let the dog loose after there are babies on the ground. The geese get vicious and fast.

And some pretty shots I grabbed while walking:

I need to figure out a lot of stuff on my camera still, but for the money I had, it's a really nice camera.

We were gone for about an hour and a half, but Toby is still zonked out on the couch. I'm sure he'll be up and at em soon, but he enjoys getting to trot around and explore everything.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Well I took yesterday off, so I spent most of both days with the Tobsters. Yesterday after we'd gotten up and eaten I took him off to the track for a run before it go too hot. (It was supposed to get into the 80s and did). Throughout the day we toyed around in the house and had him help get the laundry to the basement. We also did a few 'teeter' sessions on my makeshift board.

Today he had a quick morning stroll before I had to leave to go grocery shopping. Afterwards though we did some obedience work and more stuff on the teeter board this afternoon. It was in the 50s, with a ton of wind! Gotta love Michigan weather. Tonight however, I wanted to take him somewhere he could really stretch his legs. The track is a good, close to home solution during the busy week... but it also gets 'boring'. So we went to the Leila Arboretum here... it's this huge garden area, with tons of biking/jogging paths woven all over a set of mowed fields. Little spurts of forest areas and gazebos and so on. A nice place... but too many people use it as an off leash dog park (against the park's rules) so we never went before. Well I figured it was going on seven, getting cold out... it wouldn't be too busy tonight. So off we went.

It was rather quiet... a wonderful place to walk! I was a bit worried when we got there... one being that I'd just made a car drive on some busy roads for the first time by myself. I'm terrified of driving... so every little step counts! And secondly because there was an off leash dog running around - and Toby is on-leash reactive, sometimes even aggressive even though that's rarer these days. But they left shortly after we got there and it was so quiet I turned him loose on his 20ft and let him go. I was a little skeptical when for the first five minutes he didn't so much as glance in my way. But in the middle of a really good smell, just as I was thinking that it'll probably be a good half hour before he checks in, he jerked his head up and whipped around to look at me. Yes! From then on out he checked back in frequently. Good boy! I was so proud.

I let him jog around and hike up some hills for an hour before heading home. He's not quite exhausted but he's satisfied. Now to figure out where to take him tomorrow... Finding good places just isn't easy around here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I got a few of Reba today so I decided to show some off... please ignore house.

Then of course we have Tobbers... ^_^ This is one taken from the shoot with K. Just because I realized that I rarely show his 'grin'.

And then one from today:

Where has my brain been?

I'm feeling kind of slow lately... maybe it's the stress of the end of the semester finals or whatever but I don't care. I'd just like my brain back. For those that don't know, Toby and I have slowly be working through his on-leash reactivity with other dogs. Off leash he's fine, a bit of an over sized dork because of his lack of socialization as a pup but he takes direction well and fast learns when to knock it off. On leash with dogs he knows, he's fine. It's off leash with dogs he doesn't know that's been our problem. He's made great progress for having an owner who has to bumble along on her own because we don't have any positive trainers around here and when I finally did break down and take him to a trainer for help things just got much, much worse.

So on our own it's been and it's taken me about 6 months to get back to where we were before I took him to the last trainer (about this time last year...). In these past 6 months he's gotten much, much better than I'd ever thought possible. He still has his moments (which I try to avoid... but we're in the real world I can't control the other dogs), but his recovery time has gotten shorter and shorter. To show just how far we've come... a year ago he was back to exploding at any dog he'd see. Now he's never been the worst of the worst. Just lunging and crying, screaming his head off and when that doesn't work, then we get the growl-scream mix. This is a dog who at about this time last year, I was dragging back in the house with screaming because he saw a dog five houses down in their front yard... just laying there. That was one of his worst moments... but it sticks out in my head.

Today... we walked outside to go for a walk and saw a man with two kids walking down the street (the kids on tricycles) and had to wait on the front steps for them to pass (Our front yard is fenced in with a small picket fence, so I couldn't open the gate until they passed). No biggie, we just waited. My neighbors of course chose this moment to take their little dog for a walk. A week ago they'd tried it and the little dog had come growling and barking up to the fence and I'd had to turn Toby back in and give him a few minutes to stop the small whining and make sure he was calm.

Instead Toby just sat there calmly and watched the dog come out and wagged his tail happily at the kids. Relaxed. If I'd been on top of my game with my brain in full functioning mode I'd have been rewarding him like a madwoman right then! Sadly I wasn't and sure enough the little dog rushed to the end of it's leash and started growling (at least it was on a leash...). Toby started to whine and then my brain kicked back in and "Oh crud!" meter flashed and started shoving the bits of steak into his mouth. Thankfully that was all he needed and he stopped whining and played "Look at the dog" with me.

We were even able to follow the dog down the road (we were going to pick up mom her work...) something that's we're still working on. Toby was calm about it most of the way. I think our biggest obstacle these days is passing the group of feral cats on our normal walking route... and you can't plan your walk around them because they're hiding in the bushes all over the place.

Nonetheless, I'm so proud of him! Even after our run in with the cats he relaxed with me outside the bank as we waited for mom. There was a time when he couldn't just lay down outside and be relaxed, especially not after even glimpsing a cat, let alone a growling dog. He's been incredible these past few months... it's mind boggling. All that's missing is my brain and maybe I can catch back up to his excellence. :-p

Listen to Your Dog

I meant to post this yesterday but didn't get around to it. I've always heard over and over again since switching to more positive training techniques to listen to your dog. So why is it that when Toby refuses a cue my first reaction sometimes is fall back on punishment? I know my dog and for his standard cues, I know his responses. He doesn't blow me off unless for some reason he just can't do it. Whether that's because he didn't hear me, is above his threshold for what he can cope, what I'm asking is beyond what we trained or it physically hurts.

And yet... yesterday morning when he refused his sit for his breakfast my first reaction was to get mad. He knows sit. He can do it almost anywhere these days. But fine, I thought and I switched gears. I asked him to down... his ears flopped back - almost in a defected look, a clear "Mom I can't" from him - and I got even more frustrated. His down is his most reliable behavior. It's his default behavior. Mad, I just pushed him away and worked with Reba so she could get her breakfast... but Toby just looked so sad. So I asked him for some hand touches and wa-la! He could do those. I asked for another sit (my brain had yet to kick back in apparently) and his face fell again. He lifted his left back leg (wow! He doesn't even do that on his own in his sessions) and kicked it at my hand. He was trying, which only made me more miffed. I checked both his back feet, ran my hands over his legs. Nothing felt wrong, swollen or heated. Frustrated I asked for another hand touch and just gave him his breakfast all at once, refusing to let myself get too angry with him. (At least that part was good on my part...)

He followed me upstairs after breakfast and got him in my room and asked for a down again. He did it very, very slowly. Now my brain was thinking... I checked his back legs again and nothing. Then I had a look at his front paws and sure enough... they were completely matted over with pine sap, bits of sticks and pine needles matted up between his toes. Ouch! I trimmed it off his feet and washed them down, giving him lots of love.

And you know what? Five minutes later when he found me getting ready for work and I cued a sit? He slammed that butt of his right down, ears pricked up and everything, just so proud of himself. "See mom! I can do it now!"

Ugh. Some days I just feel like an idiot. And it also reminds me of why physically correcting him refusing that morning wouldn't have helped either one of us.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Photo Session 1 Favorites

Well I got the pictures from yesterday morning from my neighbor today... and after pouring over them all, I picked out my favorites. Very hard to do! There were so many good ones. We had some really bad shots - it was so bright out yesterday, I expected it - with the sun bleaching out everything, but we also had some really incredible shots. Thanks K! I wanted two things from this photo shoot, some nice action shots (if possible) and some shots that really show his personality. K managed to do both with what little time we were there, and the heat quickly tiring my dog.

So here we go...

I've been trying for ages to get some good running shots of Toby, but I'm always the person he's running to. K got so many good ones of him in a run that I could only put up a few of them... I chose to show more of the ones that were just so Toby instead of just the pretty running shots.

And of course... Him nearing the end of his recall!

I'm just so happy with how a lot of these turned out... I can't wait to get prints of some of these. I'll have to take Reba out in the backyard sometime soon, after I've cleaned her eyes and just get some shots of her. Her eye problems make it difficult to get spur of the moment shots with her (she has dry eye and allergies... poor girl) around the house, but I need some more recent ones of her. Especially after seeing how well these turned out!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Teaching Toby to lift his left hind leg...

I don't normally do this... but I wanted to see if my theory held true. I've been trying to figure out how to teach Toby to be more aware of his back legs... something I've never clicked before. I've tried a few sessions just clicking any time he moved his left rear leg... but he just decided he need to move back and forth, most specifically his front feet or he needed to bow when that didn't work. Very stressful for him when neither proved a high rate of reinforcement.

So I decided to try something else... lifting his back leg and clicking it. My thoughts being that he'd start anticipating me lifting his leg and lift it on his own and I could jack pot that and work from there. I wanted to do at least 10 sessions (about 10 reps each)... to see if I saw any progress. I'll probably have to do many more than that, but I'm watching. So far this is what I've come up with:

Session 1: 10 Reps
I lifted the paw and clicked each time.

Session 2: 10 Reps
Same as before, I lifted and clicked. He's still showing no signs of lifting on his own, (I'm lightly touching his leg and then lifting, the hope being he'll lift it on his own soon just at the touch). If anything by the end of this session he's putting more weight on the leg I'm lifting...

Session 3: 10 Reps
The first rep, I barely touched him and he lifted his leg! Probably a fluke, but I cheered and c/t. The rest of the reps I did have to lift his leg, but his leg was 'lighter' in the last two reps.

Session 4: 10 Reps
The first two reps and I was barely touching him and he was lifting his leg. Then his leg got stiffer and I had to lift it up each time, before he relaxed a bit and in the last two reps it was easier to lift his leg. We ended the session with a quick cheer, me tossing his treat and a brief game of tug.

Session 5: 6 Reps
Back leg stiff the whole session.

Session 6: 10 Reps
Very light leg the whole session. Still no anticipating me picking it up yet.

Session 7: 10 Reps
Very light leg. About 3 reps where I had lifted his leg and his muscle twitched as if he were going to lift it higher so I clicked that. We'll see if that was good or not later...

I got distracted after Session 7 and he fell asleep when our break took me quite awhile... so that's it for tonight. I'm not going to wake him for this. ^_^ Interesting enough... I did two sessions with Reba as well... here's what I got:

Session 1: 10 reps
She was wild for the first 2 reps, spazzing out each time I tried to touch her (in a good way. She was dancing for treats!) Then she calmed down and her leg was super light the whole session.

Session 2: 10 Reps
Same as session 1, except she calmed down after 1 rep.

Reba is much lighter on the leg to pick up. Partially because of her size, partially because she's either really thinking this through (possible) or she's so focused on the food she's not thinking at all, and is just floppy (probably more likely). We'll see how they both go. It should be a cute experiment.

Photo Session 2 and Tricks

Today we've done a few training sessions, including the one at the track with my neighbor this morning. He had to work for his breakfast this morning, so I had Toby do a 'free' training session. I wanted to build up the amount of behaviors he was offering me... so I started by clicking his lip lick (we're teaching Yummy!) and then stopped, he decided I wanted a paw whack (trying to shape his shake into a wave...), did a few of those and I stopped. That's when his brain started thinking. He switched paws, pressed his head to the ground (a new one started this morning, will be called: Are you sleepy?), then ran out of ideas so he sprang to a stand. Then a bow. Back up. Shuffling steps (I've been trying to capture his hind legs lifting for some hind leg awareness... apparently he's decided I've been clicking for a taking a few steps in whatever direction suits him... hmm...). Nose targeted his kennel, me, the ladder, and moved back up the list. A well earned breakfast, if I do say so myself.

For the second half of his breakfast I moved down stairs and got Reba hers and had them both run through tricks they already knew in exchange for breakfast.

It's almost dinner time and I intend to have them earn at least part of their dinner... just haven't figured out on what. Reba will probably continue with her hand touch training (as I want that on cue...), and Toby... either his bow or his lip lick as I need to get those two on cues. I'm notorious for training a million different behaviors and never naming them. My poor dogs.

I just got done from doing a second photo session in the backyard (just me and Toby, Reba was snoozing). Here are my favorites:

Him and the neighbor's dog (one of his play buddies) were talking through the fence.And well just for kicks...

Photo Sessions and a Helping Hand

I'd called my neighbor the other day and asked if she could come help me with some stuff this weekend. One, I wanted someone who I could use as a training distraction and two, she takes great photos and it's much easier to have some one else take the pictures when you're holding the leash. She called me early this afternoon and we set off. I use a near by track a lot of the time to get Toby a chance to stretch his legs as well as get some outdoor training in.

Things started off about as well as I expected... He thought it was completely awesome that he got to meet my neighbor and took a few minutes before he decided he could sit calmly in the car with her. Amazingly enough though, Toby calmed right down. It was kind of mind boggling for me. A year ago I wouldn't have held much hope that he could ride in the car with a person he'd met less than five minutes ago... at least not calmly. He did wiggle the first time we all hopped in, but I took him out, walked him over and got his doggy seat belt. When I put him back in the car he'd regained his brain and since I couldn't get the seat belt looped through even road loose. A perfectly calm gentleman. I was a bit stunned by the time we pulled up to the track and got out. By then he was acting his normal self... happy to be at the track and ready to get on the 50ft long line and stretch his legs.

He was a bit more distractable than he's been lately, but I'll chalk that up to having another person with us and the heat. The heat wasn't too bad, but it's getting close to those summer months where walks have to come early in the morning or late at night. We did do a few sits, downs, and waits. Tried his easy well known tricks: shake and his hand touch he did beautifully, his leg weaves... he went through once and his brain went kaput. Oh well. I wasn't pushing it... He was hot and curious about the new smells and the new lady walking with us snapping pictures of us. We did do a few uncued recalls (I wasn't 100% sure he'd come... so I didn't call him). I was very impressed that when I had to go get a poop bag from the car that he stayed with my neighbor. It was a nice feeling to know his eyes never left me... (at least not that I saw) but I'd like him to be a bit more comfortable being left with other people, but he wasn't squirmy or whining so I'm happy.

I'm waiting for my neighbor to send over the CD of the pictures so I can see if we got any good ones. Toby wasn't in the mood to stay still and that makes it a bit of a challenge. We intend to do it again sometime... which should be easier since she won't be as 'new' of a tag along to him. At the same time, we'll be doing it in a different location. That could mean even less attention. Overall, we had a very good morning and I'm extremely proud of my boy.

That was just from this morning. I'll post a second post for tonight's work in a few minutes.

A New Start

The old training blog I started has been down for almost a year... so I figured I'd start fresh. I use the training blog as a way to track the progress I make with my dogs, as well as my growth as a trainer. In no way will it be a step by step, completely detailed report of everything we do. I'm just not that good. -grin- However, I intend this blog to show the basics... how we're improving, the highlights of our training, whatever discoveries I make along the way and who knows, maybe a 'how to' post every now and then.

To start, I'm a 20 year old novice trainer. I've always loved animals, dog especially, but it wasn't until I got Toby almost five years ago that I really got into dog training. I've made a lot of mistakes. A ton. And Toby hasn't been an easy 'first dog' for me. Nor was my family cut out to raise a big dog. But I've learned a lot and Toby's forced me to become a better trainer and, I hope, a better person. He forces me to re-look at every situation and reevaluate my motives constantly. I'm still living at home so I do share my life with the family's 8 year old Shih Tzu, Reba as well.

Toby will probably be the majority of this blog. He'll be five in a few months. He was rescued as a pup from the local Humane Society here and is a boxer/Labrador retriever mix. Shortly after bringing him home we discovered he had parvo and I thought for sure that I would lose him. It turned out to be a blessing in the terms of his bonding with my mother (who was/is terrified of big dogs) and yet... not so much so for himself. He missed out on puppy class, and in combination with my family never having seen a need for basic obedience classes he had the first few years of his life undersocialized and inconsistent training. As much as I love this dog, the issues he's developed over the years have made me step up to the plate and really get into dog training. This same dog completely changed my view on the dog training world, and after the past 3 years of research and stumbling along I'm fully hooked on clicker training - or well the principle of using mainly positive reinforcement. If it weren't for Toby, I don't know where I'd be.

I can't even count how many times each day I think to myself, "I love this dog." He makes me smile so much...

Reba, our 8 year old Shih Tzu is a special dog. And I don't mean that in a bad or frivolous way. She came into my life when I needed a dog and didn't believe I ever wanted another one. The last dog I'd fallen head over heels with, who was darned close to being my 'heart dog' had attacked my brother. I didn't want another one. Reba really didn't care. She's always been persistent in her love for me... something that's just humbling every time I think about it. I love Toby, but I work every day for a chance at seeing his love in return for me to be even half of what Reba shows me. She doesn't even begin to question how much she trusts me. She's losing her sight badly now, but she'll follow my voice even way past her comfort zone. She tries the stairs - something that terrify her - just for the chance to come up in my room. She's got her issues, believe me, but she's my girl.

It blows my mind to see just how much faith this little dog is willing to put in me.