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!

Friday, January 6, 2012

101 Things to Do with a Box, a lovely walk and progress with Levels

5 months 1 week 2 days old

So today Knightley and I had a lovely cool very early morning walk - about 5:30am. It has been rather warm here of late, as you would know if you have been reading my blog regularly... so getting out in the morning means you experience the nicest temperatures. It was indeed lovely this morning, pearly light, a gentle breeze, parrots squawking from the trees and most of all, rather cool - so much so I had to go back for a jacket. Such a relief from the last couple of days. I took Knightley out on his long line down to the local sporting oval and we practiced recalls as I let him run around like a crazy thing. It's a very long long line - 10m (33feet), so he gets a good run, and the recalls are a very good test. I am pleased to say that he was probably 95% accurate on his responses to me, which is pretty good. I still wouldn't trust him off leash, as if a bird comes along, his brain flies out his ears... but it's a good start. Sometimes when he is transfixed on something in the house, and won't respond to his name - even appears to not hear me, he WILL respond to the cue 'come'. I have been very careful to not poison the cue (give it a potentially negative meaning, eg by putting him in his crate straight after he responds to the cue, or taking away something from him after he has responded), and to only use it when it is extremely likely he will indeed obey. It seems to have paid off. I will continue to proof it, with more and more distractions... but it is a good start for a 5 month old pup.

Knightley performing his 'under' cue shortly after he learnt it.
Since then I have proofed it with anything it is possible for
him to get under - even my camera tripod!
We did something new today, Knightley and I. We finally tried out the classic clicker game "101 Things to Do with a Box" (Karen Pryor's instructions for the game). Until fairly recently Knightley and I have been pretty awful at shaping, and I do truly think it was primarily Knightley with a mental block. Of course I have a lot to learn as I am a crossover trainer, but once Knightley understood the process, his progress has been extremely rapid. I actually have training the "under" cue to thank for helping him understand. It was a fairly tough ask, shaping wise, and over several sessions he was obviously asking himself "what the hell is this woman clicking for???:"... but eventually he understood and the whole shaping world was open to us.

Anyway, so I got out a box for him to experiment with (very easy as we have tens if a hundred of the things throughout the house at the moment due to my brother moving out) and sat down to see what would happen. What you do with this game is decide every session upon something different you want your dog to do with the box - such as stand in it, drag it, bump it with its nose, thwack it with its paw, two front paws in it, two back paws, turn it over.... and so on. The more creative the dog the better. You can just let the dog experiment and when you see something you like, start clicking it. Knightley was impressively creative, considering it was his first time. He got the idea pretty much straight away, and after he pawed it a couple of times, I decided I'd try getting him standing with his two front paws in the box. 5 minutes later or so, done!

At the beginning he started barking a bit, as he does quite often when I am shaping... but I had a little brain wave, and decided to use the ideas of something called 'micro-shaping', where even a nose twitch or eye flicker can be clicked if it shows the correct intent. I didn't go quite that far, but I did start clicking a lot more for smaller things, thereby giving Knightley more feedback than he had been getting. I thought I was increasing criteria too quickly, or making the criteria too big... but I think the reason he has been barking is not enough clicking and fast treating!! Wow, revelation! So I'm going to focus on fast treat delivery, and not just for shaping.

Sitting in front of an open door. One of the comeafters
for sit. Handy for when you are busy with shopping and
keys etc, to have a dog who will wait quietly until told. I
have him do it when going out also.
As a Christmas Gift Sue Ailsby produced a checklist of the New Training Levels as contained in her books - the ones I got a few weeks back. It has more accurately shown me where we are up to in our training, and we are going very well indeed. We're probably about 3/4 of the way through Level 2, although we have more of what are called the "Comeafters" to do, which are sort of extra bonus proofing to make sure your dog has really truly learnt the new skills. Despite those, we are making fine progress. I have been thinking about retraining down however. His down has always been slow and is probably about 75% accurate at the moment. Not really acceptable. I did too much luring in its training I think, and didn't fade the lure fast enough, which is why I have ended up with an unreliable cue. So I'll see. Maybe even a new cue would help.

I asked for help on the traininglevels yahoo list several days back about Knightley's barking and excitement issues when we're practicing the start of the retrieve training - which is just getting him to quietly hold objects for longer and longer, and is a level 3 skill. I got quite a  few replies basically telling me to go back to where I came from, and that Knightley couldn't do it because that was simply how the levels worked, and if I followed it all in order then by the time I actually *got* to the retrieve training, then he would have been made ready for it by all the other skills he had learnt.

The items I am practicing retrieve holds with Knightley. A traditional
plastic dumbell, a light canvas bumper-like bone, a box clicker, a carabiner
a spoon and a pencil. Enough variation to get him used to all sorts of
things in his mouth, although we do the most work with the dumbell and
canvas bone.
So I eventually became convinced by the argument, including comments from Sue herself... but decided to just give it one last go before I said goodbye to it for however long it would be. Unfortunately or fortunately..... suddenly it had clicked in Knightley's head and he was doing quiet calm holds..... SIGH. Now what do I do?!?! I have continued to train the hold since then, and he is doing even better!! He can nearly do 5 second holds consistently, which is the next step nearly done. GAH!! So tempting to keep on going................ People who read this, what should I do? Be a good little girl and do the levels in order? Or continue training what Knightley can obviously do and is definitely enjoying! The thing is, if he can start to pick up things earlier than the rest of his assistance dog function comes 'online', then that would make my life quite a bit easier. I know I should be taking it slowly, as my role of assistance dog client and trainer do clash and could be influencing me to Knightley's detriment on this... but he has suddenly started to do really well here. Big big sigh. Aaaanyway.

Outward Hound Quick Access Treat Bag. It has been
just great and has really sped up my treat delivery,
which in turn improves the quality of my training
overall. You see it in this photo with the opening
snapped open.
I ordered a new treat pouch about ten days ago or so, from the US, and a couple of days ago it arrived. One of my problems of late has been a delay in between the click and treat, leading to slower training and poorer learning. Part of the reason for that has been my treat pouches, or when I use my pocket, or even having the treats in my lap when I train sitting down. None of them really encourage fast treating. Kikopup on Youtube has a fantastic treat pouch that I have always been taken with because it would facilitate such fast treating. So I set out to look for something similar. I found the "Outward Hound Quick Access Treat Bag" on eBay and absolutely love it. It snaps open to a permanently open position, or can snap back closed, keeping your treats safe. There is a fair range of quick access treat bags out there, so I recommend if you're clicker training and don't have a fast way of grabbing your treats, look at getting something like this one.

Anyway, that's all from me today. You may have noticed I am blogging more often. It is a conscious effort as I think it makes me a better trainer. I notice more what I am doing from day to day, and think about it more. I also get more traffic! So please, if you enjoy reading this blog, do follow it and show me that I have some regular readers. Also, if you would like to hear about a particular part of Knightley's training at this puppy stage, please ask and I would be happy to blog about it!


  1. Love following Kneightly's progress. Keep Om blogging!

  2. I plan to! Glad you enjoy reading.

  3. You have such a lot of information which translates to practical tips regarding assistance dog training. Keep up the good work!

  4. Having a dog is really one of that best things that you can do to have fun and enjoy life and having a dog that really is good in dog events is exciting to have.dog clicker training west hollywood