Oz Working Dogs - Assistance & Working Dog Equipment

For assistance/service dog equipment, as well as guide, therapy, detection, search & rescue, police and dogs in training equipment check out my website http://www.ozworkingdogs.com.au - I make and sell vests, capes, belly bands, harnesses, handles and more... and will post to the world!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Changing how I train Knightley

13 weeks 2 days old

Since the first days of training Knightley, he hasn't been particularly switched on by training sessions. I have already talked on here at some length about the difficultly in finding a treat that Knightley could really like and now I look back upon my techniques, in a way I used that difficulty as an excuse for his slight passiveness - and didn't really try to change anything about the way I was actually doing the training sessions.

In a way, I don't blame myself much. Those first couple of weeks with Knightley were very exhausting, and I don't think I could have mustered up the extra energy for the approach I am using now. I had been thinking a lot about Knightley and I, and made a post on the yahoo list for those who are following Sue Ailsby's Training Levels. It helped further challenge my expectations of myself, of Knightley and also after some thought, gave me some ideas for changing our training sessions in order to get him "in the game".

These are the major changes I've put in place:
  • I now stop sessions while he is wanting more (before I sometimes continued until he was reluctant)
  • I now stand to train him, and keep moving around (before I used to train sitting, as I know many other trainers do)
  • I now talk a LOT, and make lots of fuss over right things, especially any breakthroughs. This is to keep him engaged and keep his enthusiasm. Talking is generally considered a no no for clicker training (before I generally trained in semi silence except for effusive praise when he had done something really good)
  • I am temporarily using the marker "yes" more often than clicking, as it seems to be more effective. I think this may be because the clickers I have are of the "i-click" type and so are rather quiet. Knightley is completely sound proof and I think they are just a bit wishy washy for him. I have ordered two clickers of the loud type. (Clickers are considered a better marker of desireable behaviour than your voice, because your voice changes, and reflects your mood, and possibly your frustration with your dog! A consistent marker is the cornerstone of this type of training, called operant conditioning)
  • I try to keep the behaviours varied, when not learning something new. In the past we might review zen by doing three in a row. Now I will do one zen, then a touch while moving my hand so he has to chase after it which he loves, then a down, then another zen..... I have realised he much prefers the active behaviours, so I mix them all up.
  • I have made his main mealtime food more boring in the hope that he will see treats as exactly that - treats!! His meals were (on breeders advice) kibble, soaked well in warm water, with a bit of puppy milk, and a couple of tea spoons of wet dog food. I slowly weaned him off the puppy milk bit by bit (he didn't appreciate that change!), and then slowly reduced the amount of wet dog food I was giving him. Last night was his first kibble only meal, which he ate happily. Previously he had refused kibble point blank. We'll see if it helps.
These changes have already made some big differences. Before the changes, there was very little wagging and doggy grinning during our sessions. Now the tail rarely stops, and that is something really important to me. I think clicker training can give that happy tail wagging 'this is a fun game' feel to a dog, unlike any other training method. My previous dog was trained fairly traditionally (with some luring), and I can tell you, he didn't particularly enjoy being pushed and prodded and jerked into various behaviours. Once he had learnt them, he could enjoy more, but the process can be so much more fun for both partners!

The approach kind of proved itself when I started teaching the beginning of paw targeting. Knightley didn't get it on our first day, but second day, bam bam bam, his rather large paws were hitting the lid I was using again and again and his tail was going happily. In the past new behaviours took longer and were something that didn't make him happy.... they tended to turn him off and make him a little unwilling to continue. So that was exciting. I made some videos of Knightley doing the OL1 (Old Level 1) behaviours the other day, but I need to actually make them into a proper movie before posting them.

We are working hard on LLW and also on keeping under threshold whilst outside. He certainly isn't great at taking treats outside, which is a good indication of being over threshold. Lots more work to do there.

He is definitely growing up, there is more maturity there. Not to say he is sometimes still a real devil... but he is generally less work than he was those first few weeks. We've had him 5 weeks now, which means he just turned 13 weeks old. He is growing so very fast it scares me! It is to the point I am really not a fan of picking him up anymore. They say on a slow growth plan he should be about half his adult weight at 4 months, and that should be about right - maybe a touch under.

Anyway, he is my adorable Knightley, and our bond is becoming very close already. I miss him whenever I leave the house and can't wait to see him again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Puppy class, Knightley's new best friend, a very very tired pup

Knightley and Riot,  two playful male pups, only two days
apart in age, about the same size and fluffiness. Let the
games begin.
12 weeks 3 days old

So today was Knightley's second puppy class, and he got to romp with his best friend again, Riot the Australian Shepherd. He played and played until he completely flopped onto the floor and couldn't move. We did some training too, but the part I love Knightley to have is the opportunity to play. There were two other dogs there today, both "jugs", jack russell x pug. Cute little dogs, and both a bit older than Knightley and Riot. It was perfect though - the two bigger dogs played together, and the two smaller dogs (despite the fact Knightley being a Golden Retriever will make him bigger than Riot significantly, I think the slow growth plan has kept him smallish so he's about Riot's size, just with much bigger paws!).

Knightley and Riot going for it at my feet. Last week
Riot always won, this week Knightley more than
held his own - helped by the fact Riot had spent the
morning with other dogs.
All the puppies together. One of the "jugs" getting in
on the rough and tumble Knightley and Riot act. 
He wasn't particularly impressive in terms of following cues, once again, but in that atmosphere I am not all that surprised. Still, it is a shame the instructor doesn't see him at anything like his best, but perhaps I need to let go of that mindset a bit. I think there was some improvement today,  in terms of being under threshold, as he was able to take food some more, although just having the dogs around was such a huge distraction. We visited the training place yesterday to try to get him more used to it so that he would be able to focus on us. I am not sure if it helped..... He would sometimes sit, sometimes down. Everything else was seriously hit and miss, and I don't like using cues when they are likely to be ignored. By the time the instructor got around to 'teaching' us touch (which we obviously know), he was so tired, he could barely be bothered to move his head, although even then he would still play with Riot.

We learnt 'watch' (in the training levels, but not something I have done yet), but I didn't like the way the instructor taught it. Some of the things he does I agree with, other things I think he must be really good at these beginner puppy classes with really young puppies, but probably hasn't read much of the doggy literature out there. For instance, he was asking for a good 5 seconds, or maybe even 8 or so seconds of eye contact before treating the pups. In my opinion that is crazy for a puppy. I would treat at even 1 or 2 seconds, and then the puppy would understand what it was doing right. Then you could start increasing it. Of course Knightley is not used to jumping up suddenly to such a high time expectation, I do things like that slowly with my clicker. He couldn't concentrate on the instructor for more than a second or two, kept on looking away, and yet he was given a treat for it. Not reinforcing what is wanted clearly, in my opinion.
Lying immovable on the cool floor, completely exhausted,
whilst we were meant to be practicing touch and watch.
He wouldn't move, not even for roast chicken. Poor puppy.

Anyway, we did our touch with some white tape on the end of a ruler, instead of having to teach the basics, like the rest of the class. He was really getting tired at that stage, but he did a few good touches - enough to show he could do it, before totally collapsing. It was the hottest day so far of spring, a little over 29c (about 85f), not hot by Canberra standards but it has been a rapid increase in temperature and that contributed to Knightley feeling completely exhausted by the time we got home.

Next week is our last week of puppy class, and it has been a great experience, mostly for the socialisation as we have learnt relatively little. It certainly gives us a quiet Sunday when he comes home! Five hours after getting home, he is still sleeping soundly, I had to even wake him up for his lunch!

I am planning to take him to another puppy class that accepts puppies only after 16 weeks old, and that is run by my vet. I think they are mostly socialisation and help with problems though, with little training. I guess we'll see. We'll have several weeks to practice our stuff before going to a new class. We'll also start to widen our socialisation experiences. My husband suggested a cafe, and if we can find the right one I think that would be a good idea. Knightley is a star wherever he goes, he can't be resisted!

Photos at 12 weeks

12 weeks 3 days old (photos of him at exactly 12 weeks)

Just a bit of a photo record of turning 12 weeks old, and having spent a full 4 weeks with us. Time has flown, it's pretty crazy. He is now 11kg (24.2 lbs) and was 6.2kg (13.6lbs) when we brought him home. It is hard to see his growth, but the figures are hard to deny!

"Why is mummy pointing that weird thing in my
face when all I want to do is eat my yummy bone?"

Practicing 'on your mat' with his nice new mat.
Which was pristine, but now he has managed
to make it all dirty of course.

Having a chew on the 'puppy' toy I bought to comfort him in
 his first few weeks with us. It has a wheat pack inside that
you put into the microwave. He has been chewing it so much
and making it quite disgusting and sodden I've taken out
the wheat.

Sitting and looking a bit mournful because I just closed him in
his pen,and he would much rather have the ability to harass me
whenever he choses all through the day and see if he can get
into any new and exciting trouble. Poor puppy!

Drying his paws after he paddled in his water bowl. He
LOVES this game.
Looking cute after having his paws dried.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is your puppy biting, nipping or mouthing?

11 weeks 5 days old

So this will just be a fairly quick one. It's a crazy time at night as I just got up to take Knightley out to go "looloo" which is the cue I am training for him to do his number 1. I think we are close to him being able to comfortably sleep through the night though, so that'll be nice for me.                                                            

Anyway, I said I would write a post on puppy nipping, as we have virtually completely eradicated it, after dealing with a very very nippy puppy for a few weeks. As Knightley is a Golden Retriever he is genetically predisposed to want to have things in his mouth - something that is great for his future career as a assistance dog, but not so great for while he is a puppy and those things are our hands and clothes!

We tried the high pitched "owww!" method and then ignored when he nipped, it may have worked briefly, but eventually if anything he found it exciting. Walking away didn't work - he would follow biting at our ankles and jeans, making more holes in them. We tried putting him in his exercise pen when he got nippy to calm down, but as soon as we let him out he would get back to eating us. I tried shaping him not to eat me, but the success of that wasn't helped by the fact he is not a food motivated dog. So we had tried many of the accepted techniques with no success.

Then I decided to try the tether method. When he started nipping painfully I took him to a tether point (a cheap but strong leash attached to a strong anchor point, in this case the baby/pet gate, impossible for him to pull down). I had his favourite treats, some roast chicken. I stroked him everywhere, around his face, collar, everything. Of course, very quickly he started nipping. As soon as I felt painful tooth contact I quietly said "Ah!" and quickly walked away about 3 metres where I stood facing away from him. I paused for maybe 5 seconds, then returned, and continued praising him and feeding him bits of chicken so long as there was no painful tooth contact. As soon as there was, I repeated it. I then worked on touching his ears, feet, mouth area... everywhere that is usually touchy. Then I started dangling my sleeves, jean legs... anything that would usually tempt him and doing the same thing.

Over about 5 days of doing 3 short sessions daily there was a huge huge change. The biggest change was in those first sessions, I could see him get the message so quickly. I found everyone in the family needs to do this for him to get the message that no nipping is a universal requirement. He still does it a bit when really excited... but he was like nipping 95% of the time you tried to touch his mouth area or collar and it's maybe 5% now. A huge difference.

He was still grabbing his leash occasionally, despite me doing the same thing with his leash.... so on the advice of the guy at his recent puppy pre-school (will post about that too soon!) I put some bug repellant spray on it. There has been one bite since! I feel a bit bad I wasn't able to stop it with more positive methods, but at least it wasn't aversive *coming from me*, which is what matters to me personally. If he doesn't associate it with me, our relationship is intact.

Anyway, if you are having puppy nipping problems, give this tether technique a go. I still put him in his exercise pen to calm down if he gets excited and I think he may start to want to nip. It is best to avoid a nipping mindset if you can, that way he will learn faster that human skin is delicate. Oh - and make sure you have lots of dog toys around, sometimes when he's being a bit of a pain all he needs is some exercise with a good play. Practice training him via the tether, have calm down times to avoid those nipping moods, and have play times to burn excess energy and you can avoid the worst of puppy nipping - trust me! It's certainly worth the work. Those puppy teeth sure are sharp!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My birthday, training continuing, floor sharks

11 weeks 2 days old

So, last week it was my birthday, my dreaded 30th birthday in fact. Ugghhh. Where on earth has time gone? I find it somewhat hard to believe I have lived 30 years, although some days I physically feel like I've lived 80! Well, at least I'm guessing a bit there obviously.

A closeup of Knightley asleep in his ex pen with
the new camera I got for my birthday!
I did have a nice birthday though. I spent the evening before with my immediate family, my parents, brother, husband and Knightley - at my parents house. We spent quite a few hours there and Knightley was actually very well behaved. He was so interested in exploring everything he didn't fall into his normal 'eat everything in sight' pattern. He was too excited and distracted to respond to his sit cue whilst in exploring mode, but he did some nice hand targets with an audience later.... which was good to see as it was a new place and had I leapt straight in and used the cue straight away (dogs are such poor generalisers, often when you take a previously learnt cue to a new place/room, it won't make sense to them at all and will fall upon deaf ears... the process of teaching the cue over and over again in many places with different levels of distraction is called proofing).

Knightley using my husbands foot as a very handy
chin rest.
I got an amazing digital slr camera from my husband, my brother and in laws for my birthday. It also does very good video, so I can make training videos of Knightley. I should really get one made before he goes much further. I am taking quite a few photos!! I was given a zoom lens as well as the stock lens, and the zoom is pretty awesome. Prepare for LOTS of Knightley closeups.

Since my birthday he has had his second parvo/everything else shot, for which he was fairly well behaved.... just wanted to wag and chew all over the vet - oh, and sneeze the kennel cough vaccine back onto him. Knightley wasn't too impressed about having a whole lot of fluid going up his nose, but he got a clean bill of health so I was happy. We have  started more public exposure after this second shot, as it should give him 99% coverage against parvo, and getting socialised is more important at this stage than wrapping him in cotton wool.

Playing tug with a stick with my mum about a week ago.
We've been doing small walks around the streets - still avoiding other dogs of course.. but getting him used to seeing new things and meeting people (he has a please pat me sign on his harness). He gets through everything with flying colours, every time. When he meets people, he does so with joy and no hesitation. Recovery from any fright with unusual objects he has never seen before is SO fast, it is great to see. In terms of his reactions to environmental stimuli, so far he is spot on for what I want. He is also obeying sit/down/touch with a lot of distractions around him (outside our local shops), so I am very pleased with that! He just turned 11 weeks old, and is going very well indeed. Zen is going quite well although he isn't generalising it yet, and our recall needs significantly more work - he has selective hearing on that one!! I started "on your mat" this morning, and it was the first strictly shaped behaviour I have done so far, and Knightley got kind of stressed about it - didn't get it for a while... but I think he has grasped the basics. Time to let him sleep on it. Other that that he is close to passing Sue Ailsby's Training Levels, Level 1 (old)! I have just put in an order, once again, for her new levels that she has published in two brand new books. I look forward to following that program to the letter, to train Knightley.

He has been quite the floor shark since we got him.... nippy nippy nippy. We all have holes in our clothes, as he looooves tug and nothing gives him greater pleasure than to use our clothes as his tug toys. My brother especially has a pair of lambswool slippers that he adores and that if they were left alone wouldn't survive for a second. I had tried quite a few different techniques with his nipping... which was becoming quite annoying, and certainly needed to be dealt with. It isn't perfect now - but I have greatly improved it by the tethering technique... which I will attempt to do an entry on alone because it worked so well for us.

He is growing up so fast, it is almost scary! He was 6.4kg when we got him, he was 8.5kg at the vets last weekend, and must be just about 10kg now. He is staying nicely lean, but still - wow.... I see most of the change in his face actually. It is becoming less babyish. I really hope he shapes up to be the dog I want and need him to be.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Progress with Knightley's basic training

9 weeks 3 days old

Well, I've found something that Knightley will work for - cooked chicken. He's almost keen for it! In the last couple of days I have been making some good progress with it. I'm trying to make sure I get his feeding right, as he was a bit pudgy when he came to us, and I want to feed him on a slow growth plan to maximise the chance his hips will grow well, without any signs of dysplasia. So, I am quite sure I am not feeding him too much. I am also doing my training sessions before his meals, to ensure that he is at least relatively hungry. It is quite amazing how little interested he is in the vast majority of foods. However, like I was just saying, chicken is somewhat of an exception. I can keep his attention with chicken for a reasonable time, maybe up to 10 minutes with a high level of reinforcement.

Being a bit sleepy and adorable.
Yesterday we worked on sit, which is coming along well, both with hand signal, and with cue. We also continued work on hand targeting, which is probably at about 6/10 at the moment. I have a feeling he doesn't quite *get it* yet, even though he often does the right thing. I don't know how he can do the right thing without understanding quite what is wanted, but I am sure he was frustrated. He barks at my hand sometimes when he clearly wants the chicken but forgets how to get it. We were also on our second day of working on down. I lured it at first, and then used a hand signal similar to the lure action. It was quite hit and miss yesterday. We've also started 'zen' (ie leave it cue) but despite him seeming to get it quickly at first we have a lot more work to do there. The only behaviour left from this level to train is the come, and I've been doing what I can solo. It's the weekend now, so I hope my husband and I can give the 'come game' a go. These behaviours are all from Sue Ailsby's Training Levels, Level 1 (Old Levels). We have a good way to go before we pass them and can go onto the much more interesting Level 2.

Asleep by my feet. Continuing his theme of being
cute whilst unconscious.
Today down was going much better, although he is not offering it how I would like him to, he pretty much needs the hand signal. Perhaps I will have to start some capturing. His sit is pretty good in certain rooms so I am starting to move it around. Hand target still frustrates him occasionally, he has gaps where he can't seem to remember what to do, and he loses interest in the 'chicken game'. Zen he isn't getting, he'll do it right on one session and then next he won't have a clue. He just fundamentally doesn't understand it. Still, he is doing a LOT better than how my previous dog was when he was 9 weeks old.

Showing his fluffy loveliness. I have a
feeling he is going to have an enormous
coat! I am putting some work into
getting him to accept being brushed happily
although he does quite like eating the
brushes at the moment!!
House training is going pretty well. His only occasional accidents continue to be our fault. There are a few stairs for me to go down to get out, so I sometimes put off going out, which can be my undoing! Stairs are not my friend!!! He is doing well with his sleeping, no whining when he goes into his little sleeping crate, but he doesn't much like his big crate in our living area when he really wants ATTENTION. Then the whines/howls come out. He really is a full on, demanding puppy. I am thrilled at his love of tug, and how he happily carries objects for a good 15 seconds. But it's going to be another couple of full on months before I stop being zombiefied at the end of each day. Cross fingers Knightley will make up for it in later years.

Today he had his first bath. It has been raining quite a bit in the last couple of days and he had got himself quite mucky. I fed him quite a bit of chicken so he would see the bath as a GOOD THING, but he stopped taking chicken half way through and was quite miserable (in doggy nerd speak, he was over threshold). I had wanted to get him used to his bath slowly, step by step, just wetting him paws one session, a bit of water on his back the next.... but he got too mucky! On the other hand, I used a wonderful smelling Australian Made shampoo called Champet (http://champet.com.au) - the Aromatics line. I shampooed and conditioned him and he both smells and feels so lovely. I ended up completely soaked and completely exhausted. But worth it for such a scrumptious smelling dog!

Those photos are all quite recent ones of Knightley - the last two or so days. He is definitely growing! He is nearly the size of my previous dog, Clipsy, who was a rather large Cavalier. I am looking forward to him being a little more grown up. I do love some of these puppy moments, and I do treasure them, but he would try the patience of a saint sometimes. I see him get more focus and simply become more trainable every day, and it's a lovely process to watch.