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!

Monday, February 27, 2012

What an amazing dog I have!

6 months 4 weeks 2 days old

I am so very impressed with this gorgeous dog. The visit to the show went ahead despite some very humid/occasionally drizzly weather. It didn't seem to affect the crowds much, there were still a lot of people there! So, this is how the day went.

We got there and were able to park in disabled parking nice and close to the entrance, but it involved walking through 'sideshow alley' to get in, which was full of very loud amusement rides, blaring music, people on microphones trying to sell tickets to various rides and games and so on.... intimidating for some people when they are just coming in, let alone a 7 month old puppy. We could have walked around and gone to another entrance, but we decided to see how Knightley would go. I hadn't fed him the previous night and morning so as to reduce the likelihood of him leaving little presents throughout the show for me to pick up, and to also give me the opportunity to give him heaps of treats throughout the day to help him overcome whatever scary and strange things he may come across. I had got a bunch of stir fry beef from our wonderful local butcher and had slightly cooked it (didn't want to handle raw beef all day). I wanted a very high value treat for whatever we were dealing with was particularly strange or stressful. I also took several handfuls of his old Canidae kibble I still use a bit for training and the like.

The first thing we came across as we went through the gates was a ride with little cars swinging around pretty quickly. Not too crazy but not too sedate. I stopped quite a way back and just let Knightley look at it. He looked pretty relaxed, considering he had never seen brightly coloured flying spinning cars, but I fed him a few pieces of beef to reinforce that loud fast moving things = good. Things were going well, so we took a couple of steps closer, stopped and l fed him a piece of beef. He was quite relaxed still, looking around himself with interest, watching the people go past him into the show... so I started walking towards the ride, keeping up constant praise and giving him a piece of beef every several steps. He was fine! We kept on going until we were past that ride and fully inside the amusement part of the show. I kept up the constant praise with beef, but was slowly winding the beef back as he was doing ok. I watched his body language very carefully, just in case we needed to try to find a less chaotic place, but his tail was up  (even wagging some of the time!), ears were forward not pinned back, his gait was free and easy and he wasn't crouching at all and his eyes were interested, bright, curious... not rolled to the side as a scared dogs eyes are. He looked very good. He just walked steadily beside me.

We did have a couple of issues in this rather crowded section with people patting him without reading the RATHER VISIBLE sign on his new vest, but they were pretty much gone before I could say anything. However later in our time there, there was more patting which I addressed - I will obviously need to come up with a default response to that because I didn't really know what to say to ward them off.

Knightley with the handle attached to his vest looking all
official. What a lovely looking dog he is if I say so myself.
As we had planned we headed for the arena which was much quieter and I was able to sit down.. There were horses in the arena getting presented with ribbons and Knightley watched them curiously but he was ok with them from a distance. However, with the various livestock that had been in the arena there were a lot of flies around and Knightley really hates flies - he can't stop himself from snapping at them, and I'm going to have to try to desensitise Knightley to them because Australia has a lot of flies and getting agitated from snapping at them is no good for an assistance dog.... I'm just not sure how to go about it because you can't just magic up flies when you want them! So as Knightley couldn't settle down there we decided to keep moving. However, because of the problems we had been having with him getting random pats by people, we decided to attach the handle to his harness so I could just hold it very loosely (he isn't allowed to take any of my weight until he is 18 months old) and we hoped it would make him look more 'official' as Australia doesn't have many assistance dogs and the harness handle makes him look a bit more like a guide dog and would make people think twice.

Knightley sitting happily beside me. He was extremely good
at his sit stays, I was so very impressed considering all the
We moved into again a more crowded part, moving through food stalls and lots of stalls selling things and Knightley was doing amazingly well, I just couldn't believe it. He walked patiently and happily by my side, even helping me through the crowd by going for gaps when they appeared.

There was a collection of fire fighting equipment - a modern truck, some older vintage trucks and cars and a smashed up car with those car cutting and separating hydraulics. There was a fireman there in uniform so I asked if I could introduce Knightley to him, as assistance dogs need to be great with people in uniform. You never know when you may be sick or could hurt yourself when you are out somewhere with your dog and need the care of paramedics. Also a working dog is more likely to come across policemen and women so it helps if they are happy with being around them. Some dogs take a particular dislike to people in uniform so I just need to make sure that Knightley's interactions with people in uniform are positive. Later in the day he got to say hello to a policeman, and he was very friendly with him.

We headed into the art exhibition - last year I had two paintings in it - where my dad has won a 1st prize and a 2nd prize. I allowed Knightley to meet the coordinator of the exhibition who was a dog lover and Knightley rolled over for a tummy rub (must stop him doing that!). He was a little more excited in the exhibition for some reason, maybe because it was quieter, was inside and was carpeted. We moved on through a bunch of stalls, bought a few things and Knightley remained so amazingly good. It was like being with a rockstar... so many people pointed at him or commented how cute he was, or said something about 'assistance dog in training'. Knightley didn't even try to get pats - I think there were just so many people he wouldn't have known where to start! Every half an hour or so I allowed him to meet someone - only at my invitation though.

Knightley just before he had his snooze. He spent most of the
day panting, but we gave him water every 20 minutes or so
to keep him as hydrated as possible, and the beef I was giving
him also helped keep him hydrated.
We then went into the cake/flower pavilion which also had some food stalls  - we bought some awesome spices and had some of these rather tasty honey puffs we found at a local festival recently and were pleased to see again.  We sat at a table and I had Knightley go underneath and rest. I took his halter off while he snoozed for a while under the table. I was impressed at how he was able to settle down - I think it was partly because all the noise and crowds had taken quite a bit of his focus and he needed some time out. We stayed there for maybe 20 minutes and he was asleep or half asleep most of the time. When we got moving he was definitely more perky.

There was a lot food on the ground as we walked around, and while I have been doing a fair bit of food zen training, it obviously wasn't enough because he did manage to sneak a bite of a potato chip/fry on the ground, and I had to be on the look out for food from then on. Sometimes he responded well to my leave it cue but if there was half a bucket of chips on the ground around us I had to tighten the leash to prevent him him from scoffing them all up. It was too much to expect him to do perfect zen in a place like that, it was too big a test for him at this stage. Still, he did quite well, but there is a long way to go before he could be professional in a place like that. It will be interesting to see how he behaves there next year, assuming we go.

One of the main reasons I wanted to take him to the show was to get him to see some animals as I had read a story somewhere of a fully trained service dog going nuts at a horse in the course of its job. I really don't want Knightley to run into a police horse or something (or even just one of the cows we have near here as Canberra is scattered with grazing land) and have Knightley freak out. So we headed towards some cows, and I didn't really anticipate that much trouble with them. At first Knightley was ok and then one moved and turned its head towards us and Knightley started barking, so I turned him around quick smart and we retreated. I tried several times more, giving him pieces of beef with every couple of steps he didn't bark, but we really didn't make any headway. The cows we had been approaching were in a shed, so I decided to try with some outside instead. I tried the same technique, slow approach with treats every couple of steps, then about turn when he barked.... but it just wasn't working. So I tried a more BAT technique (behavioural adjustment training) by simply pushing him into actual stress by approaching until he is just about to barking and then turning around and walking the other way, relieving the stress. Then doing it again and getting just a bit closer. It didn't seem to be working though, we couldn't get much closer and we were getting barks. So instead I moved ahead of him and called him to me. That worked a lot better. He would come to me, then dance back and look like he wanted to bark but then come back to me. We did that for a while until he was quite a bit closer, and then went back to the shed. My husband helped there by calling Knightley to him. We got close to the entrance of the shed, much closer than before... and decided to leave it there. We are hoping to go away for a weekend down to a farm which will give us more of a chance to meet animals. This was a good first step though and was good experience for me doing trial and error training.

Knightley looking completely gorgeous but very
tired at the end of the day. I was so so proud of
him for all he did.
By this time Knightley was starting to get tired so we started to head back to the entrance, but stopped to buy a couple of show bags of chocolate (Knightley also had some treats bought for him!). He was rapidly losing his remaining energy at this point and kept on lying down whenever we stopped, and wouldn't get up despite encouragement. My husband had to pull on the handle of the vest to get him to stand. Once he was standing he was happy enough to keep going, but once he got settled he was reluctant to move. We walked back through the amusement park part of the show to get out, and while walking past I talked my husband into playing a lucky number game where getting a lucky number got you a choice of a rather large stuffed animal. He completely failed on the first card with four numbers, but on the second card he won. There was this cute huge dog he could have chosen, but instead chose this 4 foot tall banana with dreadlocks and an evil grin (will try to get a photo of it later). Couldn't believe it when it was MY idea for him to play the lucky number game.... the banana was ridiculous!!!!

We got back to the carpark and got home and both Knightley and I were absolutely exhausted from our day. We collapsed into our respective beds and slept the rest of the afternoon away. Now it's the following day and Knightley seems completely recovered but I've finally come down with some sort of virus after a few days of a sore throat. Nevermind, yesterday was worth it!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Show tomorrow, lots of training and compliments!

6 months 4 weeks old

In the last three days Knightley and I have had three compliments about how good his behaviour is; the most recent being today when we were up at the shops getting him used to his new halter, and two dogs tied at the pub started barking at him very reactively. I am teaching him to ignore distractions like that, so that every time he looked away from the dogs (and he spent most of his time not looking at the dogs and only glanced at them occasionally) I c/ted him. A couple were walking towards the shops, so they could see what we were doing, and called out to me "that's very impressive!", so I went over to talk to them. They thought Knightley's behaviour was great. It really makes me feel good to hear that.

We took Knightley to one of the pet shops near here to use their dog wash today, and he was pretty good there too. I have been training him so that if I stop and stand still for around 5+ minutes he can go into a down and just settle down to wait for me. He did that today while we were talking to one of the shop attendants, and she was sooo impressed. It was there that we actually went for our puppy training, and they remembered Knightley from when he was an 11 week old tiny little fluffy baby. What a difference to now, when he is very close to being 7 months old.

On Friday I picked up his first padded assistance dog vest from the post office. I ordered it from Activedogs from the US, as well as a couple of other items, and it looks really great! I am completely happy with it. The management at the show we are going to tomorrow are letting us take Knightley on the condition that he is clearly marked as not a normal young pet dog, but as an assistance dog to be (hopefully!), so that is the main reason I have this vest a little ahead of the usual time scale.

I think we're going to have to go earlyish in the day because it looks like it will be a warm day, and I don't want Knightley overheating. He will quite likely be stressed enough from all the strange things already there, and that increases the likelihood of overheating, so going early is a good idea - if I can drag the hubby out that early!!!!!

We've been doing more work on his zen, lots of food zen and animal zen - bird and dog mostly. I know he will be seeing all sorts of animals at the show... I meant, they even have pig races! But I hope the work we have done on zen carries over to the other animals, mostly horses and cows, because there are are definitely a lot of those there. They are one of the main reasons I wanted to take him. I've heard of mature working dogs bumping into a horse for the first time and totally flipping out. I really want Knightley to see some bigger animals before he gets any further in his socialisation and training to prevent that type of reaction later down the line.

The Comfort Training halter is in the country and should be arriving imminently but hasn't got here yet. However, I decided that I really wanted a halter for our day tomorrow, so I ended up buying a Gentle Leader for tomorrow. We've done a bunch of counter conditioning today to get Knightley used to it, to the point he happily puts his muzzle in the loop now, whilst wagging his tail expectantly. I will take it off regularly tomorrow as he won't have ever worn it as long as I'll be asking him to.

I can't wait until tomorrow, it should be a fantastic learning experience for Knightley. I'll just have to be careful to watch him carefully for signs of stress and give him lots of breaks from the crowds. It should be fun for me and the hubby too! Be prepared for lots of photos!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More days of socialisation, planning the show trip and the antibiotics continue

6 months 3 weeks 4 days old

So yesterday Knightley and I went into our town centre. Canberra is a city which was very deliberately designed from the very beginning, and is made up of five main 'satellite' cities - each a smaller city in its own right. There is a main CBD area, but we have yet to take Knightley down there. Instead, yesterday Knightley and I went into the centre of the satellite city that we live in, which is fairly busy and built up but not overly so like the CBD. There is a lot of traffic and lots of people to practice not jumping up on.

We had a really successful time, about two hours, we'd walk around, then we'd relax, then walk around again. There's a park near where we were that we could have some peaceful time in, time for him to smell, do his doggy business and have a lie down. He really did very well. At first he was trying to pull, but about half way through he started to get that pulling meant going backwards and not getting to where he wants to go. Things went well after then. We spent quite a bit of time around the major shopping centre as there were lots of people there, and also random rubbish and occasional food on the ground to practice not eating. Knightley's behaviour was good, I was very happy with him. The only real thing I would change is Knightley's behaviour when he's getting attention. He doesn't try to jump up on people anymore - neither on people patting him nor passers by - but the thing left that is somewhat annoying but rather cute, is he very often rolls over onto his back to get a belly rub and partly because he's a reasonably submissive dog. I have started to teach a behaviour called 'visit' to try to combat this, and to keep him calm when my mum or dad come over. For 'visit' he sits and gets patted, possibly ears pulled, possibly feet picked up, fingers stuck into mouth..... all the things a small child may accidently do in a second being corrected. So I get him in a sit and every time I do something a little unpleasant to him I give him a really great treat and make a big fuss of him. Visit is starting to become a really good thing, but it will be a while before he can hold the position in a high distraction environment and before it will cancel out the urge for submission and tummy rubs!

There was quite a bit of garbage and food on the ground, the most of tempting of which was half an uneaten banana, which was a great opportunity to work on our default 'leave it'. It took about 15 passes by that banana until Knightley didn't go for it, and then he got a big handful of treats! There were lots of other things that Knightley ignored, and some things he went for and then listened to my 'leave it' cue and stopped mid grab, and some things he did unfortunately grab the tempting item. The vast majority of the grabbed items he happily gave up for a treat, although with a very few of them he was more stubborn.
Knightley at our local shops today. I have patches on his
harness that read "In training: Please pat me" because I've
wanted him at this young age to get lots and lots of contact
with people of all shapes and sizes. However, he is about to
'graduate' to a "Don't pat me" patch, as I want him to start
learning to concentrate on me some more, and less on trying
to get pats. He's still a long way from being an official
Assistance Dog trainee, but I can slowly start to train some
of the basic public manners.
Today we had two visits to our local shops for more socialisation and getting used to as much bustle as the local shops have to offer in preparation for our weekend escapade to the big agricultural/food/amusement rides/entertainment etc show. I've been reading about how to introduce Knightley to the show when we get there. As soon as we reach the main centre of the show we should start trying to find a nice quiet place for him to unwind, away from the noise and people so that he can start processing what he has just seen so that he doesn't get overloaded with new sights, sounds and smells and start going over threshold to where I couldn't reach him. Then periodically throughout the time we are there, we should return to the same spot for 15-20 minutes to let him unwind away from the crowds. I might do some massage, and also take some toys. If a dog can play happily, especially if they get really into it, then they aren't all that stressed. So, play would be good to see. I plan on not feeding him the night before, or the morning of the show (we are likely going on Sunday as we think it will be less busy, although Sunday looks like worse weather) so that I can use food to shape him to explore things that may spook him.

More of Knightley up at the shops. Wanted to point out that
he is panting, even though it was not a very hot day. It was
quite humid however, and a day can be quite cool but only has
to be humid for a dog to get really very hot. Humidity effects
dogs more than purely heat, but both together is a killer -
literally in some cases.
Another issue for the weekend will be the heat. The forecast puts it at 30 C (86 F) for Saturday and 28 C (82 F) for Sunday. While it won't be too bad for us humans, for a dog that is quite hot, especially if that dog is going to be walking around in the sun. Dogs really don't cope with heat well, as they can only lose heat through their mouth/tongue, nose leather and foot pads. They do of course lose some heat just through their body and wetting or applying other cooling packs to the dogs abdomen can be quite effective in cooling a dog down. It isn't the dog's back or neck that you should be concentrating - many of those dog cooling products are largely gimmicks that don't work much at all. Really the only place that works for cooling a dog down nicely is to apply cooling to its stomach and chest, also getting their underarm region. When we've had particularly hot days this summer, although it has largely been a cold wet summer, I've used a little spray bottle to spray Knightley's chest and stomach to cool him down. This gives a surprising amount of relief, he always perks up after a good spraying. I think I will take the spray bottle with me. The other thing that is essential is that Knightley stays very well hydrated. A dog's main cooling system relies on them having a nice wet mouth, so I have to make sure he keeps drinking throughout our time there. I have considered what to do in order to pump as much liquid into Knightley as possible and think I will boil a chicken carcass the day before, then boil it down some more to get a more concentrated stock. Then I can take a small bottle of it with me and all I need to do is add a tablespoon of the stock to Knightley's water in his portable water bowl and he'll be keen to lap it all up. It's important you don't go crazy with giving too much water on a hot day, but considering all the distractions that will be around I think the stock is a good idea for getting him interested in drinking when he might be a bit more interested in what is happening over there.... or over there.... or there...!

We continue with the antibiotics for Knightley's lump and I *think* .... maybe....... it is a bit smaller. It certainly isn't bigger. Please please please be an infection , that would be nice and simple. The antibiotics are a five day course, and after that period I was to call the vet if the lump hadn't gone or seriously shrunk..... so that's Saturday. Cross your fingers for us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lump news a bit unsure....

6 months 3 weeks 2 days old

So, we saw the vet early this afternoon and the news is a little unsure for now. I definitely did the right thing by taking him there as it could be serious, and either way definitely needed looking at.

The vet thinks it could well be an infection of a hair follicle (folliculitis) that has turned inwards and has become hard and boil-like. We have some rather strong antibiotics for the next five days in the hope that they will clear it up.

Another fairly likely possibility is something called a histiocytoma, which is a benign tumor usually found in young dogs on their heads or limbs. They usually shrink and then disappear on their own, after 1-4 months, although occasionally do require removal. In the past they were routinely removed but more often vets just leave them now. Looking at images online of dogs with histiocytomas, it looks quite possible it could be one of those.

The most dangerous possibility is that it could be something malignant, but the vet said in a young dog like Knightley he'd guess at a 1% chance of something like that.

The idea is that he goes on these antibiotics for five days, and we hope the lump goes away. If it doesn't then he goes back in for sedation and a needle biopsy for diagnosis. The vet gave the go ahead for the show this weekend, Knightley shouldn't be experiencing any symptoms.

Cross fingers for us that it is just the infection and is nice and simple. Keep Knightley in your thoughts!

Vet appointment, Knightley seems flat

6 months 3 weeks 2 days old

We have a vet appointment for 1:45pm today... we were going to have to wait until tomorrow but it worked out eventually thankfully. I would have found that hard to wait. The lump looks more or less the same today, but I do think Knightley is a bit flat... or maybe I am causing it by being stressed? Hard to know. Can't wait to hear what the vet says, hopefully something simple and non nasty, cross fingers for us.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Worried about a lump on Knightley and more socialisation

6 months 3 weeks 1 day old

Knightley has had what looks like a little hot spot (a fungal infection that develops after a dog gets wet and doesn't dry quickly enough to stop the fungus from forming - Golden Retrievers are particularly susceptible to it) on one side of his muzzle for the last couple of days, and I have tried hard to keep it as dry as possible, although there was little else I could do. The common household remedy suggested for hotspots online isn't available in Australia (Gold Bond Medicated Foot Powder - the stuff used for athletes foot, the powder keeps it dry and also treats the fungus), but it seemed to be slowly getting better, and it was tiny anyway. I had noticed a very small mark on the other side of his muzzle, it just looked like the fur was slightly thin there, but had paid it no heed because the hot spot (or whatever it was) was so much more obvious. Anyway, today the pinkish spot looked a bit worse, so I actually felt it. Imagine my surprise when it was actually quite a firm large lump - about the size of a baby pea. This has pretty much freaked us out. Golden's get a LOT of cancer (hubby is calling this the 'c' word) and I have to say, this is what I thought when I finally actually *saw* this lump properly. He is surely too young though? I have heard of a year old, but 7 odd months? The lump is pink and shiny and the hair has fallen out on top of it. I am going to phone the vet as soon as they open tomorrow, and get an appointment. Cross your fingers for us, let's really really just hope it's a simple benign lump that won't even need any intervention.

Before the hubby and I started getting stressed about the lump I first took Knightley up to the local shops for some socialisation and training (they are very close, so it's an ideal socialisation trip). It is like a mini mall, a complex of shops built into one building, so we took a walk around the whole building. We stopped at the entrances in order to just sit and watch people going in and out with a nice loose leash, and also get even more used to automatic doors (we've done this quite a bit already). We did some nice heeling, and I asked for a range of cues in a quieter place in the shade. It was pretty hot! It makes me aware how hard it would be for him to work at this time of the year for a good chunk of the day, unless he was inside. There's a sports bar that has tables outside and serves alcoholic beverages I go past on my way to and from the shops, and today there were two dogs tied up outside it and they go quite aggressive as Knightley and I went past. On the way there Knightley found it hard to focus on me, despite repeated 'leave it' cues that only worked for a couple of seconds..... the dogs really looked and sounded legitimately aggressive and Knightley doesn't have much experience with that, so I wasn't surprised he had trouble focusing. However, on the way back, the dogs did the same thing, but Knightley virtually took it in his stride. He did turn to look at them once as we were leaving, but a 'leave it!' go him back to heeling nicely. I was impressed! If he can have one new experience on every socialisation trip then I am happy.

He actually had two, as the party I mentioned in my last blog entry was a birthday party, and there was a big shiny banner blowing around in the road this morning when I was walking him up to the shops. Knightley was very suspicious of it, I think mainly because with the wind moving it, it looked potentially alive. So we backed up to where he wasn't acting spooked, and every time he looked at it I said yes! and gave him a treat, then took a couple of steps forward. Before we knew it, he was happily standing in front of it. Then a big gust of wind blew it around and he danced back several steps in surprise. So I picked up the banner, and cued 'touch!' and suddenly he forgot his issue with it and came forward and touched it with his nose. I gave him a whole handful of treats, and he completely relaxed. When we returned it was still blowing around (the hungover party-ers did surface and clean up eventually), but Knightley completely ignored it. Success!

Anyway, Knightley and I had a hour or so to recover from the heat, and then he, hubby and I went out to the local fresh foot markets, which we have been taking Knightley to since he got all his shots at 14.5 weeks old. It has been a while since we last went though, so I was interested to see what would happen, especially in light of yesterday's cafe practice. We went to have coffee at one of the cafes there, and after sitting down, Knightley immediately went into a down of his own accord. I was really really happy and impressed with him! I guess he remembered the down jackpot from yesterday.... either that or he was still tired from the walk to the shops. Either way, he got another jackpot. He did get up several times - there was a potato chip (fry to you North Americans) that I kept having to remind him to 'leave it' as it was within reach of his down and really must have been quite torturous to lie next to - but it was good practice and he always went back into a down, usually of his own accord. I had his 'please pat me' patches pinned to his harness, and he had some good attention, and he was nicely polite - although he rolled over for tummy rubs to one of the people sigh. I have to work on him remaining in a sitting position. We walked along the length of the markets, past people eating and having coffee, and Knightley didn't try to jump up on them or bother them - although he was pulling a little, sometimes suddenly. This is the situation I need the Comfort Trainer for, just until he learns that not pulling is a universal requirement.

A short time later we were walking past a particular book shop at the markets that I know to be a friendly shop, and I asked if I could come in briefly with Knightley. The young guy at the register said sure, so Knightley and I walked around the shelves. He was really great! The leash was nice and loose and he was very polite and didn't overtly sniff anything. I got him to sit and down - the down took two repeats of the cue but not too surprising in such a new place. Overall it was a great visit to the markets. It was at the end of the markets that we realised that the mark on his muzzle was actually quite a significant lump and started stressing, so it ruined a good outing a little. Nevertheless, it has been a productive weekend in Knightley's socialisation, and he is doing great!                                                                  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A successful public outing, and training to prepare us for the show!

Today was great! I misplaced (let's be frank...... lost!) my sunglasses recently and I am very very picky about sunglasses. I get migraines very easily, and one of my triggers is very bright light, so I never ever leave the house without my sunnies on. They also have to fit really well... if they press on the wrong place then they will actually trigger a migraine, sigh! So for the last two days, every time I have been outside the house I've had my eyes half closed! I am sure they have just fallen down the side of something, but that doesn't help me now. So, the hubby and I had planned to go out to our local fresh food markets today and take Knightley, and do some public access type training in advance for next weekend... but because of the missing sun glasses we went out to a nearby small casual shopping district - a site that used to be one of the regions earliest farms when this area was settled by Europeans. Anyway, there is a great shop there that sells everything to do with the sun - and being sun sensitive because of the lupus I have bought a lot of there over the last couple of years. There is also a great restaurant that has generous servings, the food is very tasty and has a bunch of outside tables. Hubby and I wondered if they would let us have Knightley at those tables, as a socialisation/training exercise - even though he isn't officially a Assistance Dog in training and won't be for another 5 or so months. Hubby checked as soon as we arrived and they said yes, but we went to get the sunnies first as Knightley was pretty excited at being in a brand new place. It was definitely the right thing to do, by the time I had chosen a pair of sunnies and we got back to the restaurant, Knightley was heeling quite nicely and had calmed down a lot.

It was a little hard to find the right table for us to sit at, and they were small cafe tables - very hard for Knightley to lie under one because it had one support in the middle that then branched out into multiple legs. Lying under the table is what is expected of an assistance dog, and I have taught him an 'under' cue, but GAH sometimes the table makes it hard! Not only that, there were heaps and heaps of flies, kids running around and playing on the nearby playing equipment, flocks of tiny little sparrows going after leftover crumbs and larger Australian magpies stealing big chunks of the leftovers. Of course for a nearly 7 month old puppy this was all shouting 'COME CHASE ME!!!!' and at first he did get pretty restless. I had been asking for downs, but it just wasn't going to happen... mostly because there seemed to be more flies down there for some reason and they were driving Knightley kind of mad. He couldn't keep from snapping and driving at them, although my zen 'leave it' cue stopped him for a short time, but not for long. Knightley has always been a fly snapper. Then there was two quiet-ish barks in protest at the whle situations - mostly at the flies and the sparrows, which was hopping around only a couple of metres away (6-7 feet or so) and rather driving Knightley mad who had never been that close to birds before. However, no matter the reason, it was unacceptable and I quickly took Knightley away from the table (thankfully our food hadn't yet arrived!). We went to a slightly quieter area and I asked for a sit and eye contact in order to re-establish our connection a bit and calm him down. Once away from the pesky flies and the frustrating sparrows, Knight calmed quickly, and we went back to the table. This time I decided I would be happy with a sit if it was a calm sit, and was right by my side, partly under the table (out of the way of waiters etc) and so that's how we preceded, much more successfully too. Our food came and we were able to eat without worrying about him. He started relaxing more and more, and then suddenly went into a down under the table. I had some treats with me, and quickly jackpotted (lots of treats in a row) him for this... to do it of his own choice was really great! He stayed in a down for the rest of the meal. What a good puppy. For a puppy to overcome the distractions and to have ended up nigh on perfect is more impressive than an adult dog that does it all the time IMO. I was very happy with Knightley, and it gave him great experience coping with distractions - there certainly will be a few next weekend!

Practicing 'on your mat' with the Manners Minder. He is actually 
mid treat in this photo - the little red light on the Manners Minder   
comes on when the mechanism is working to deliver a treat...
which is why Knightley has his hungry maw in the treat bowl part.
This afternoon and evening we practiced training behaviours I want polished for our outing next weekend. We did a bunch of 'on your mat', both with the Manners Minder (MM) and without. The MM is so very very good at extending behaviours like Knightley's 'on your mat'. I'd really like to get this very very good in the next week, and be able to take a mat with us next weekend and have him rest on the mat whenever I want him to just have some time out from everything and have a bit of a snooze. I know he will find it tiring, so a extra portable bed would be great. We'll do a lot of work on this, although I am not really happy with any of the mat options I have, so I'll be looking out for a new harder wearing no slip mat.

We also did a bunch of zen exercises with a left over cooked chicken bone (which seemed to smell nearly irresistable!) and with a large disposable cup lying on the road (there is a big party at a house in our street and someone left the cup on the road) which had the benefit of being a complete unknown. The chicken bone was sooo tempting. He was fine when it was in my hand, and was able to stay away from it with no problems, but as soon as it went on the floor........ We used the MM again for this. At first I had to pull him away from where the bone was, and I stopped using the cue because it just wasn't working as the stimulus of the bone was too much to overcome. When he stopped fighting the leash and trying to get to the bone (loose leash work still to do!) I would turn away with him towards the MM and press the remote in all one movement - so really he was being rewarded when he stopped trying to get to the chicken bone. 

Working on zen with an ultra attractive chicken bone. My foot
 is ready to cover it if Knightley tries to go for it, but once he
gets to this stage he is pretty reliable. I love zen, I think it is
what makes the difference between a bratty uncontrollable puppy
and a nice dog to live with. Note our lovely loose leash!
Slowly he realised that a) he wasn't going to get to it even if he pulled b) stopping pulling often gets him treats in the past and this seemed to be the case here again and c) he was getting to eat something anyway, even if it wasn't the chicken bone, and it was much easier to get the treats, no pulling and choking. Eventually I put the 'leave it' cue back in, once he understood the exercise, and continued using the MM for the treats. I could have just done it myself of course, but I liked being about to walk in little circles and have the treat there immediately without fumbling for it or having to bend. It really is great for anyone with any mobility issues at all. I can't even imagine how wonderful it would be for trainers in wheelchairs! We finished the session off by doing a few 'leave its' with the bone in front of Knightley within his range - although I had my foot ready to cover it if absolutely necessary. 

Later we worked on the cup on the road, which was easier... although in that case we had curiosity to combat instead of greed! At first we started a good 4-5 metres away, and instead of using a 'leave it' cue, I made kissy noises to attract his attention, and he then got a treat when he focused on me instead of the cup. After doing that several times, I made the noise then said 'leave it' which worked very well! He got his treat and we moved on. After a few more repeats, I just used the cue. Every time we went past we got closer and   closer and he was able to 'leave it'. I figured disposable cups - or similar - are something he may have to deal with next weekend, so I will grab some out of the cupboard and continue to work with them.

So it was a good day for Knightley and I. Lots of new things experienced and learnt - he's going to need those skills in adaptability and flexibility next weekend! Really can't wait to see how he handles it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Halter counter conditioning and a special outing for Knightley coming up!

6 months 2 weeks 6 days old

5th June 2012
Note: If you're looking for information on halters for assistance/service dogs, have a look at my page on dog halters. I have mixed feelings about them, but the best I have found for Knightley is one called an Infin8 made by a company called Black Dog, based here in Australia. It is the mildest, and bothers him the least. You can find it on eBay for a reasonable price. Depending on your currency, it will be cheaper than buying from Black Dog themselves. Now - back to our scheduled programming.

So, over the last couple of days we have continued to work on halter counter conditioning. Lots of treating while making a noose of the twine to put around Knightley's muzzle. Then yesterday evening and again today I attached the twine to one side of a martingale collar and made a loose figure of eight noose around Knightley's muzzle, then attached the other end of the twine to the other side of the collar. At first I would just tie it on lightly, give him a handful of treats, then untie it briefly, then tie it back on and give more treats. This is to give the association of weird thing around my muzzle = treats and mummy loves me praise..... and awww she took it off and the good things stopped :( Then I left it on a bit longer, then I left it on and clipped a leash to the collar, then eventually walked him around inside a bit with it, giving him a treat every step or two.

This morning we went for a short walk outside with the makeshift halter on... and I have to admit, I understand why people get so addicted to halters. He didn't even try pulling to get to frolicking birds. I was impressed. Having said that, I just got back from a short walk, which we did partly in his Freedom Harness, partly just in his flat collar.... and I don't know if the walk with the halter taught him something in that short time, but he was *perfectly* loose. I was very proud of him, we REALLY are getting somewhere. It's the high distraction level we need the halter for though. But if he can learn from the halter so well - if that's what happened today, it may have just been a natural 'leap' of progress that dogs often experience after sleeping on it - I may find he doesn't need to wear the halter for long in order to learn not to rush up to members of the public.

I had some good news today. I've been given two free tickets to our local agricultural/amusement ride/food/entertainment show, and despite the event being marked as 'no dogs', I asked for and have been given permission to bring Knightley with me. This is so he can have the benefit of a day of socialisation that couldn't have more variation or learning experiences all packed together if it tried! I really want him to see horses/cows etc before he is much older, and this is a great chance. Not to mention all the other animals, people, sounds and sights. It's about a week away, so I have a few things that I really really want to work on in anticipation of the day:

  • Heel/loose leash - although I will be using our new Comfort Training for the day, (which should be here by then cross fingers) I will need the very best heeling Knightley can do so that he is close and safe by my side, and will hear any cues I give him - although in that high distraction environment it will be interesting to see how many of those cues he obeys!
  • Accepting of loud sounds - Knightley so far is really good with sounds, we've had a huge number of big electrical storms recently and he doesn't bat an eye.... however, I'll be using audio snippets to get him used to certain sounds - loud amusement rides especially
  • Floor food zen - There will certainly be food (as well as things Knightley would like to think is food, like animal droppings) on the ground, so I have already started work on a reliable 'leave it' for when we are just walking along... there probably isn't time to get it default in a week, but I will get it as good as I can
  • Working on a new cue "visit" - Knightley will have new patches saying no pat, whereas previously his patches encouraged patting. For those rare occasions when he is going to be allowed to meet people, I am training a new cue called 'visit', where he must stay in a sit and accept whatever pats are offered. I am gently pulling his ears, sticking my fingers in his mouth a bit, brushing my hands over his eyes, picking up his feet, fiddling with his nails and very gently stepping on his tail (and I mean gently!)..... You just never know how people are going to handle, especially children, and better to be safe than sorry
It should be a pretty amazing experience for Knightley who will be about 7 months old next weekend. I think he is ready to experience an event like this, but do not mistake him for an official 'Assistance Dog trainee' - he is a puppy still, and this is an outing for socialisation, not serious training. Keeping that in mind, it still is a significant step forward, as two months ago Knightley wouldn't have had the maturity for this. He really is growing up and turning into a lovely adolescent dog, without any of the problems that a lot of people report! Will try to get Knightley out in public this weekend for some practice. Looking forward to the show next weekend, I haven't been for many years!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The benefits of raw feeding and a 1 minute down stay!!

6 months 2 weeks 4 days old

So after working on a 1 minute down stay for months today we got there! I really think I can credit the Manners Minder with helping to break the 1 minute mark. Whilst a minute isn't very impressive for an adult dog (my previous dog had to do a 5 minute down stay in his training exam - surrounded with dogs on either side), for a 6 month old puppy I am VERY happy with it!! Puppies just don't have the powers of concentration an adult has, which is why task training for assistance dogs in training only starts when they are at least a year old - when they are more likely to pick up the training quickly and make sensible choices. For Knightley's age, he's doing just fine. Now I need to work on getting it up to 1 minute outside with distractions, which will  be much harder! We can do a 20 second down stay outside comfortably with distractions, we just need to work on increasing that slowly up to the minute mark. Now the fact that the Manners Minder (MM) is battery powered comes into its own, because I can easily take it outside with us, and use it to build his attention span in the face of all sorts of distractions. On the subject of the MMs portability, I am very happy with it for someone who isn't able to move heavy or difficult objects without repercussions on my health. I don't have to reach right down to floor level in order to pick it up, and it is actually lighter than it looks, which would make taking it outside fairly easy for me. It really is a well thought out tool.

Our sit stay actually went backwards today but never mind that, I am sure that was just a bit of a blip......!     It is very rare that Knightley actually breaks a stay, I take stay training very very slowly in order to have him less likely to develop the bad habit of thinking it's ok to break a stay if he's bored. If you increase the time of a stay in leaps and bounds then the chance that the dog will break in one of those those longer periods. If you treat really regularly and don't keep the dog waiting for you to return to him for long, then the dog is getting more feedback that it is doing the right thing and is more likely to continue doing what it is doing because it is getting treats.

Knightley with some chicken thighs.  He
must always wait for release ("go eat!")
before touching his food. It takes quite a
bit of self control to stay away from a bowl
of raw chicken. He's a good puppy.
Raw feeding is going really well....Knightley is definitely loving it! I've fed Knightley a range of chicken cuts now, depending on how much bone he needs for a given meal - trying to keep up the 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% organ (5% any organ and 5% liver) ratios. I gave him a chicken maryland last night, his largest cut so far, which is the thigh and drumstick with bone in, and it was pretty amazing watching him eat it. When you are raw feeding you give the food in as large a piece as you can, you shouldn't cut it up. Dogs have a limited ability to tear off bits if they need to, using their feet to hold the food down and using their molars to cut the food off. Mostly though, the dog will give the piece of food a really good chew, breaking up all the bones inside (amazing to hear their jaw strength) and then if the piece fits, it disappears down the hatch. Amazing stuff. That's more of less what Knightley did with the chicken maryland. He chewed off a small piece first, as obviously he thought it was a bit big for him to swallow straight off, and then systematically gave the whole cut a good chew, breaking down all the bones into little pieces inside the chicken and putting lots of holes in the chicken itself so it became a lot more pliable. Then.... with a swallow, the whole thing just disappears. Raw feeding has several great benefits:

  • If the pieces are properly sized, it can give the dog some good exercise
  • Managing large and unusual cuts is a good mental workout
  • Dealing with bone, meat and organ instead of kibble or wet dog food keeps teeth in top notch condition
  • It avoids all the horrible 'fillers' dog food companies put in their dog foods, such as corn by-products, beet pulp, and anything else that the dog doesn't actually digest but could be possibly sensitive to, and is cheap to bulk it out and reduce the cost of manufacture
  • It gives the dog some quality meat instead of the worst offcuts the *vast* majority of dog food manufacturers use in their food. Not only that, it is unprocessed, without the need for stabilisers and preservatives.
  • You know what your dog is eating, instead of a list of ingredients that you may or may not understand.
  • If the ratios of 8:1:1 are properly managed then your dog will be going to the toilet a lot less, with a LOT less volume (as nearly everything you feed is able to be digested), and with a great consistency.
The only drawback at the moment is cost, and that is something that tends to come don over time as you find the cheapest places to buy. Australia has much more expensive chicken than the US/UK etc unfortunately, and you are always meant to start raw feeding with chicken because it is a meat most dogs like but few react badly to, and one that is easy to get in many different cuts. Also, the bones are soft for beginner raw dogs. I have started looking around for alternative sources - abattoirs, farms etc and the like, but it can apparently take many months to get good sources. Once that is achieved, the cost is meant to be quite similar to that of a top quality kibble, and I am already feeding a very good kibble.

Other than our adventures into raw feeding and working on stays, we are doing lots of loose leash as per usual, polishing our 'back up' cue which is looking lovely, and working on door zen a lot too - trying to make it automatic so that he won't go through any recently opened door without waiting for permission. He is doing really well and it is a very nice handy behaviour. The only problem is when someone comes to the front door, it all goes out the window. Door zen???! But this is a NEW PERSON!!!!!!

We'll get there, like we will on everything. :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Preparation for halter, socialisation work, crate and stays

6 months 2 weeks 3 days old

As our Comfort Trainer halter is currently winging its way towards us from the US, I thought I might get a headstart on the counter conditioning. This is very much necessary with a halter, so that the dog can happily wear it with little to no effect to its personality and creativity, and without it bothering the dog physically. A lot of people buy a halter for their dog and put it on immediately, impressed when the halter causes the dog to become slow, withdrawn and in the worst cases, depressed. The main cause for this psychological effect is the noseband of the halter - where it sits just below the eyes. When a dog is displaying its overt dominance to another, it sometimes will hold the other dogs muzzle in its mouth, putting pressure in many of the same places a halter puts it. It is hard wired into a dog that this pressure = dominance, which is why you see the psychological effects to halters. Some dogs won't be too bothered. These are the emotionally robust and physically insensitive dogs, however even then they certainly aren't going to like it.

In order to have a dog wear a halter with a little inhibiting effect, you have to do a lot of counter conditioning, and that is something I can do before the halter actually gets here. I plaited three strands of twine into a width of thick string that will be very similar to the width of the noseband of the Comfort Trainer. I then settled down for a clicker session. I held the plaited string out to Knightley, and if he ignored it, he got a click/treat (c/t). I formed a large loop of the string and slowly started moving it towards Knightley's head and muzzle. After every c/t I would withdraw the string as well. This is using the ideas of a technique called Behaviour Adjustment Training (BAT), which is a very geeky dog training technique that involves negative reinforcement (a feeling of pleasurable relief from stress, eg walking away from something stressful as a reward). By with drawing the string as well as c/ting, this let Knightley know that if he behaved nicely, the string (which he didn't much like) would eventually go away. Slowly I increased the time the string stuck around, and also started touching it to Knightley's muzzle and the rest of his head and chest, c/ting if he remained calm. I had to use my zen cue (Leave it!) a couple of times as he thought eating the string would be a good idea lol.

Knightley getting used to having a loop of string around his
muzzle. He did great in his first session of counter conditioning
in preparation for his Comfort Trainer halter. If he is well behaved
the string goes away, and over time I increase the amount of time
and also add a little more pressure. With simply great results.
Eventually I placed the string across the top of Knightley's muzzle, below his eyes - where the halter noseband will sit. I didn't have it in a loop at that stage, I just wanted the feel of the string across the halter to be brief and to link it to food and praise and a quick withdrawal before he tried scratching at it. I kept up a stream of encouragement and praise whenever I put the string across his nose. He was doing well, by and large not trying to bite it (must have been so tempting for my playful puppy), so I put it back into a large loop. I put a kibble in my hand, and put the loop in front of it, so that if Knightley wanted the kibble, he would have to put his muzzle through the loop. He seemed happy to do this, and I didn't try to force him to stay with his muzzle in the loop longer, or to tighten it or anything. We did this several more times until any reluctance had disappeared. I then started c/ting for putting the string under his muzzle, just holding it there for a second before a c/t. At this stage I thought to myself - ok, he's happy with a loose loop around the whole muzzle, he is happy with some pressure on the top of his muzzle and with pressure on the bottom. He knows it isn't going to hurt him, he knows it isn't for eating, and he knows if he is quiet and well behaved the string goes away. After this mental recap, I figured Knightley was ready for the next stage. Forming the loop again, I lured Knightley's muzzle into it the same way, but this time I tightened it a little as he was eating his kibble. Before he could get upset, I released it. We did this again and again, and I was able to holding the loop with gentle pressure for a couple of seconds without Knightley making a fuss - enough to take a photo at least, which wasn't easy let me tell you!!! We left it there for the evening, and I was very very happy with that progress. Slow is fast when it comes to counter conditioning - which is what they call this process.

After writing about my socialisation and public access training plans in my last blog post I felt pretty inspired, so today Knightley and I took a walk up to our local shops. He did great! I focused on a couple of different things:

  • Not pulling towards people in order to say hello (if he pulled, we backed up until he was in heel position and was under threshold again)
  • Not picking up any leaves, garbage or food from the ground (he did pick up some plastic covered with leaves at one stage, but when I told him 'leave it' he dropped it. Good boy!)
  • Staying calm - or at least calming down when asked (we sat down on a bench a couple of times and I had him go into a down - he relaxed nicely, I would like to practice having him calm when people pat him, but there is a lot of work to do there)
  • Obeying basic cues (we ran through the basics, especially focusing on our eye contact cue ... he found it difficult with all the distractions but we were able to get up to about 8 seconds with no problems - we can do 30 seconds at home though!)
  • Being neither seen nor heard (the ideal for an assistance dog is that no one ever notices that it's there, so we focused on heeling nicely, being quiet and being invisible - I did notice several people startle when they realised there was a fairly large panting dog just lying there)
So far so good! There is a lot more work to be done of course, and I am looking forward to having both the halter and the vest, so that people will leave him alone in public. That will make a lot of difference to our training.

I decided a couple of days ago to do something about Knightley's 'crate' behaviour. He is very eager to obey if, and generally only if, I have some nice food. If he knows I don't have any food, he certainly isn't eager to get in the crate, and when he does get in, it is very slowly and sometimes he doesn't even go into a down once he is in - and that is absolutely *required* as part of the behaviour. So, I decided to teach the behaviour again, from scratch. I didn't actually teach 'crate' very well, it was my earlier days with Knightley, and I have learnt so much since then. We are putting a new cue to it - 'box' - and I have shaped it from the beginning. It is looking like it will be a faster version of the cue, and Knightley is always going into a down at the end of the behaviour chain. I think this is one of the very best things about clicker training (and something that more 'traditional methods' completely fails at!), that if you don't like a behaviour that you have trained, that you can train it again completely from scratch and get it better the next time around.

The last big thing we worked on yesterday - apart from loose leash, which is a given! - is our stays. We are getting really really close to properly passing Level 2 now. The Manners Minder (MM) is definitely helping. Knightley gets a bit bored in a sit stay and used to slide down into a down... so I put the MM on top of something so the chute was more at his mouth level and it wouldn't tempt him to go into a down when the treat came out, but would instead *keep* him in a sit. It worked very well, and I slowly walked around the room with Knightley in a stay, at first giving a treat at 10 seconds, then 15, then 20, then 25 - which took us to 1 minute 5 seconds. I then returned to him and gave him a big chunk of dried liver. Then we tried again, starting at 15, then 25, then 30 and returned to him. I then did some shorter sit stays, about 10 seconds. It's important to sometimes make it easy, not always just hard hard hard, or the dog will give up. We then started again, 15 seconds, then 25, then 35, then 40... which added up to a whole lot more than 1 minute, although of course he was getting reinforcement. He did almost break in that last one, his butt did come off the floor, but I quickly said 'sit!!!' in a deep authoritative voice and he sat back down.... and I hit the treat button twice in a row on the MM and praised him gently as we were at a distance from each other and effusive praise can make a dog break. We did another set of times, and got up to 45 seconds with no treat in between, which is our longest sit without him sliding down... but if you look at the amount of time between me giving the stay cue and returning to him, many of those times it was well over a minute. So I was very happy with our progress. We worked on our down stay in much the same way, and then later in the day did it without the MM. We got up to 50 seconds at the required 6m (20 feet).

So Level 2 is getting so very close to being done.....! I am going to try making a video of some of the things in Level 2 - there are too many things to get them all in, but we'll have a go. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Raw feeding, Manners Minder, socialisation and Comfort Trainer

Knightley on the new couch, having been allowed up. He's
looking less and less puppylike every day now!

6 months 2 weeks 2 days old

Our new couch has FINALLY been delivered after the furniture company messing us around for nearly a week. I am teaching Knightley not to get up on it unless he is invited - and to *never* bring a bone up on it. He is doing quite well actually. Most of the time it doesn't need reinforcing, but I've found the more people on the couch and the more excited he is, the less he remember the rule - or he just thinks it's an exceptional situation lol. He really does get very excited with people around, and if anything is going to be his undoing as a potential assistance dog, it will be his extreme friendliness and his assumption that everyone should want to meet him. For a while I was worried about his vocal-ness, and while he does still bark, it is much less than it used to be. He used to bark at everything, now it only when he's really really frustrated. Cross fingers as he learns more and more self control it will become still rarer.

Knightley has had a touchy tummy really for as long as we have had him, sometimes being fine, but sometimes having runny movements... and I have often wondered whether he is sensitive to anything specifically and if I can improve matters. I have always been interested in the idea of feeding a raw diet to him, but for his initial growth spurt I wanted to use a good quality kibble as I would be entirely new to raw feeding and it isn't something that is learnt overnight, so perhaps not a good idea to experiment on a growing puppy. However, since Knightley's stomach sickness that had him on antibiotics, he has been worse, and has had very erratic movements. So I've decided to either a) do a 1/3 kibble for training and 2/3 raw for the rest for the health benefits, or b) move to raw entirely which would more likely 'fix' his tummy trouble and create a wonderfully healthy dog.

Feeding a raw diet properly to a dog isn't as easy as just giving them a steak every night. Firstly, they need to receive about 2-3% in weight of their ideal adult weight. According to several slow growth plan statistics, Knightley is about 65% grown, which puts his final weight somewhere around 32kg (71lbs). I think he's likely to be a bit heavier than that, but it's a good guide anyway. Dogs on a raw only diet have to get a certain amount of muscle meat, bone and organs in order to stay healthy. The ideal percentage is 80% muscle, 10% edible bone and 10% organs. Of those organs, half of them (5% overall) should come from liver, as there are minerals in liver that a dog can't get from anywhere else. We've been feeding about 2/3 raw for the last three days now, and Knightley loves it. We are starting on chicken - that is the recommended starting meat, and all is going really well. If I can find a way to train with raw or very healthy treats, and find something to fit in the Manners Minder, we may well go to raw feeding entirely. It is amazing seeing him crunch up chicken bones in a very serious way before swallowing seriously large chunks whole (you should give the food in as large chunks as possible). I've been doing some reading online about this, but a great deal of my information is coming from the yahoo group "rawfeeding". The people there are extremely knowledgeable and you learn so very much just reading through the archives.

I had Knightley in a stay whilst taking these photos, after having
done a few Manners Minder stays on the couch to give him a
good idea of what I wanted. I am loving having such a powerful
training gadget to play with - and it has already improved the
length of Knightley's down stays.

The Manners Minder (remote control treat delivery system) arrived late last week as I mentioned before.... and I thought it was without the battery. On the weekend the hubby and I went for a tour around our part of Canberra trying like 5 shops to find a place to buy one. We finally found one that sounded similar! Same shape, voltage and only slightly different numbering.  I came home and it worked!! Yippee! A short time later I then happened to check my email which tells me if I have a blog comment... and saw someone had mentioned the batteries for the Manners Minders sometimes get taped in strange places on the styrofoam. With a slightly sinking heart I went to check the packing..... and sure enough...... on the underside between two bumps where I *NEVER* would have seen it...... The hubby wasn't too impressed lol. At least now I have a spare!! I have to say, I am loving using it. We are primarily using it for his separation anxiety at the moment (the ability to treat him while I am nowhere near him is such a powerful tool), but I've used it just for small things, like teaching a drop whilst playing fetch, and focusing on his stays and mat behaviours. I think it is going to be brilliant for stays and mat. I am very very happy with my purchase. I just wish I could put raw meat in there!

We are working really hard on loose leash. We do quite a bit of it at night out on the street, which is almost completely dead at that time. I find it's a good medium, there are occasionally some distractions, a few good smells, but it isn't as hard as walking on grass  (irresistible smells), or trying to concentrate during daylight when there are lots of things happening.... but it isn't as easy as doing it inside or in the backyard. We briefly walk up onto lawns, and then off, testing his willingness to stay loose on stuff that smells more awesome than a road. I keep up a very quick rate of reinforcement, especially if the leash tightens, there will be a click/treat as soon as he responds to the leash. I am working on a better response - watching his feet as they are what moves first. Say he is trying pretty hard to get to something absolutely delicious smelling at the beginning of the session before he has remembered his leash manners, I will walk a step back, letting my body weight pull him back with me. It is natural for animals to fight pressure instead of giving into it, so most dogs will try pulling harder at this point. It is important when you have pressure on the leash that you are watching the dog's feet, because when they budge towards you, you should immediately release the leash pressure and click/treat simultaneously. Once the dog realises that by following the pressure it actually stops, you can keep up the pressure for longer if need be, but the dog is just more likely to follow the pressure instead of fighting it anyway. If that happens, click and LOTS of treats! I am working hard at watching those feet, so that I don't pull more than necessary.

The Comfort Trainer halter, what
seems to be one of the mildest
dog halters, and one which
comes with a tan noseband -
much better for light coloured
dogs as dark colours tend to
irritate their vision.
On the subject of his friendliness in public, I've made a few new purchases that are on their way from the US (we need a Service/Assistance dog shop online here in Aus, as well as a positive/clicker type shop!). One is the Comfort Trainer halter, which I think is the best halter for Knightley and I. It will help our public training specifically, and also help keep him calm by having the nose band and band behind the ears - both calming places to have pressure for dogs. Personally, I think halters very very often become crutches for the people that use them. They are intended as training aids, equipment that you use for a month or two, and then transition back to a flat collar. We are getting good on a flat collar without major distractions, but add the distractions and frankly I am physically in danger. I was very very very close to being pulled over on a walk the other day when a cat ran out a couple of metres in front of us. If Knightley had been in his Freedom Harness I would have been fine, but we were practicing loose leash, so it was just a flat collar. It was the suddenness of the event that was so dangerous, and it is that, and his public excitability that I wish to work on. He often pulls to try to go and say hello to people, and it is getting to the point where he needs to learn that he can't just go and say hello to people whenever *he* wants to.

With that in mind I have bought our first assistance dog vest in order to step up our socialisation, which also has the attachments to turn it into a lightweight harness (not the type that can take weight, as this will only be a training vest/harness for while he is a puppy, and he can't take any of my weight until he is much much older). I am going to buy a bunch of patches saying "In Training, Do Not Distract" and "Assistance Dog, STOP, Do Not Pat" and put them all over the harness so Knightley will stop getting all the attention he gets. It also comes with the patch "Working Dog - Do Not Pet". I anticipate starting to take him out in the next month or so, and getting more into it as he is around the 8-9 month mark. By the year old stage I want to have a dog with very nice public manners. At that age, some dogs are ready to be officially Assistance Dogs in training, where in some places they would start going into shops and everything. However, as an unqualified owner trainer, I will legally not have the ability to take him everywhere in public. Instead I will rely partially on taking him anywhere that is dog friendly, and also I will be hoping for the individual support of companies, especially in the local area. Once Knightley is adequately trained, then I have full access, but while he is in training, I don't. Makes it difficult. Owner trainers don't get it easy. We also don't get to take our dogs in the cabin on airplanes, in fact some of the airline companies take only a couple of programs, and if your dog isn't from that program, or if it's owner trained - bad luck. That part really makes me cranky. Apparently if you are a professional owner  trainer yourself, and have had years in the industry there is a chance of getting approval on *one* airline. Someone needs to challenge this at the Humans Rights Commission IMO.

I get all growly at the lack of support both at the government level and in the programs for owner trainers. I am sure there are people that call a pet dog an assistance dog so they can take the dog with them everywhere, and the dog may make them feel better - but may not actually *do* anything for them - the dog must perform trained tasks that alleviates the disability of its handler. However, that is not a reason to disadvantage the owner trainers that take their training responsibilities very very seriously. I am working very very hard at training Knightley. If he isn't up to scratch in the end I will be heartbroken, but I wouldn't work him. Those dogs who aren't properly trained give other owner trained dogs a bad name, and makes the road to complete equality longer. The biggest problem is the lack of any assessing structure across the country, so  that people who have trained their own dogs literally have nothing to show that they are indeed trained. I have some plans for proof, and do expect some sort of Public Access Test to be instituted during Knightley's working lifetime as the bureaucratic wheels are turning.

Anyway, as you can see training the pup continues to be busy! He's turning into such a lovely dog as he grows up.... I can almost see a working dog in there somewhere if I squint a little bit!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A week alone, another migraine, Manners Minder and Loose leash breakthroughs

6 months 2 weeks old

Knightley being a good boy and keeping me company
in our bedroom. He definitely enjoys sleeping on a bed!!
But it was only for while the hubby was away, so I hope he
doesn't get unhappy  sleeping away from me now.
I am sorry to those who come back to read my blog from time to time and have found it empty for a while now. My husband went away for the whole week on a work trip, and left just me and Knightley to get on with things - and then I got a migraine. We had a really close time actually, I gave into temptation and gave him the chance of sleeping on our bed with me - although if he hadn't settled quickly it would have been straight out to his pen with him. He was actually extremely well behaved, and slept very nicely - no trying to lick my face or anything, and it meant I knew when I had to get up to take him out, and when I could sleep in until. It meant I wasn't anywhere near as lonely as I could have been, to have a warm furry puppy happy to cuddle up with me during the night. On the second night he was in a hyper mood, so I did some 'relax' with massage until he was calm. I have tried to establish the bed as a calm only place. He has done well, I am proud of him.

Being calm and gentle while I feel sick. Such a good puppy.
The house is still not completely clean and in order from my brother moving out (I hate the chaos moving creates!), so I took the hubby being away as an opportunity for getting some of it done. Unfortunately I think I may have over extended myself a touch. I went to work on Thursday, feeling like 'normal' and about 25 minutes later it felt like someone was trying to  hammer a nail into my left eye brow ridge. I went and lay down in a dark room for an hour, but it wasn't helping, so ended up going home (in extremely hard rain!). Then my skin rash started flaring up, which biopsies have suggested is a rather rare form of a lupus rash (Tumid lupus erythematosus) - I get it mostly on my chest as well as my face but only when things are just rock bottom with my body. So I guess my body is not in a good happy way at the moment. Although my skin is not looking as bad today, it still isn't right. It actually changes texture when I am struggling and becomes dry, thin, fragile and kind of crinkly, so I know when I need to really start to take things more easily. The day previously I had got several injections into my more troublesome hip, which had left me very sore.... so overall my body is just NOT thrilled with life lol. Thankfully Knightley was sweet and quite well behaved through the particularly bad day, and that always always helps when I'm in pain, especially as I had no one to look after me.

I had another frustration this week - we ordered a custom couch about 5 weeks ago, and last week it arrived in the warehouse. I arranged for delivery for this Monday, but it didn't come. Then I was promised it on Tuesday, and then Wednesday.... and by then I was getting very cranky indeed. I was spending far too much time on the phone with furniture people who told me my delivery was marked as 'complete' HAH! Anyway, finally it is set to arrive in a matter of hours, only 6 days late. Will seriously think before buying from these people again, problem is their prices are too good. I guess that's why their staff has no clue and their computers apparently cause all these problems. Aaaanyway, with a brand new couch, there is a new rule - puppies are allowed up only upon invitation, and never with anything in their mouth. Since my brother moved out we've had a small two seater couch we managed to get for free - as he took a good deal of the furniture with him. Before the hubby left for the week, he moved the small couch into another room to make room for the imminent (or not so imminent...) delivery. The couple of days previously the pup and I had worked on the new rules. He would start to jump up and I would give a quick "ah-ah" (yes, I know this is not pure positive training, but I am not using it as punishment, just as a quick light 'don't do this' noise aversion technique) followed by lots of praise and treats when he retreated. He'd try maybe 5 times to get up and then figured it just wasn't worth the hassle. The cue for jumping up is the normal jump cue - "hup!" He is good at this one everywhere except where it would actually be quite useful.... the car. Need to work on that somehow.

Knightley at my brother's new place. He loves exploring new
places. It's quite amazing watching their noses go, as they
check out every nook and cranny. I wonder what it's like to
be able to smell like that. Like living in a whole different world
I bet.                                                                                        
Last weekend we had a trip to my brother's new place, and Knightley had a ball exploring. He started digging a bit in the leaf litter under the cover of some thick bushes, so we decided to put him on his leash. He actually settled down really really nicely. I was very pleased with him. Usually he gets quite restless in a situation like that, lots of people around and he can't get to them, an environment begging to be smelt all over and he can't get to it.... in the past I wouldn't have been surprised if he had barked. But he was a good boy and eventually just lay down and had a snooze. This is what I would like as his 'I'm doing nothing' default, and I have started training that if I am sitting or standing with him on his leash for any period of time he should just lie down and settle. This was a good test and he did well.

Before I got the migraine and the other symptoms started flaring, we were doing well with the little bits of Level 3 we are having a go at. I am getting him used to door zen at ALL doors. Wherever he is, he needs to pause at a door before receiving a go ahead. It is a long way in the future that we can use it at the front door and he won't try to frantically welcome a mail delivery man or something, but I am trying to install an absolutely iron clad respect of doors. It is actually extremely handy if you are carrying something and can't see your feet and going through something like a baby/pet gate which is so narrow. I know that Knightley will be patiently waiting for me to go through, and if he is allowed through (rare!), he will be given the go ahead (OK!).

We're doing watch (eye contact) at varying distances, up to about a metre and a half (5 foot or so), and he is great at it. We're working on the part where I start looking away and still have him looking at me. So he learns to maintain the eye contact whether I am giving him attention or not. This is extremely valuable for simply getting him used to being with me in mind at all times. watching eagerly for my next wish. It can also teach a beautiful formal heel, the dog looking right up at you as he trots along, as you look straight ahead. I know we need to do more proofing of our watch outside, we have done limited work of it outside and that is where it will come into its own. Once I recover some more, I will make that a priority.

Doing a nice sit stay for the camera at my brother's place. The
Manner's Minder is going to be so fantastic for increasing stay
times and distances because I don't have to return to the dog
treat him, but can keep the object clear it its mind and still give
treats to encourage him to keep on going and going. Just a
great gadget. Too bad it's made by Premier, because many
positive trainers are boycotting them now due to their takeover
and the changes that are unfortunately happening. I am happy
to boycott them for everything BUT the Manner's Minder!
My Manners Minder arrived earlier in the week, and I got VERY excited at first. Then I got less excited as I realised that it needed batteries. Amazingly I had the 4 D batteries that I needed, but I didn't have the 23AE battery for the remote - I'd never even heard of one. The local shops didn't have one, so I've been waiting all week for the hubby to get home so that we can go somewhere that is likely to have it, cross fingers (this is why I need an assistance dog - independence!!). I should have just ordered one online, sigh. I can completely understand not supplying the D batteries, but not supplying the 23AE for the remote......?! Very very very annoying considering that it is rare. I am quite annoyed as I can even turn it on and everything, but it just sits there useless without the remote. Grrrr. The hubby got back this evening, so hopefully this weekend I will obtain the battery I need. It is going to be so useful, I just can't wait to start using it. We are likely to stop making much headway on Level 3, but it will definitely help us get a solid 1 minute stay in any position we wish, as well as teach a lot of new stuff I have planned that aren't Levels related but are good manners.

We are really getting somewhere with our loose leash. We do a lot of heeling work inside the house, so he gets used to the cue and the position at my left. I make it tricky, varying my speed, quick sudden turns where he has to backtrack in order to get into heel position, and sometimes even walk backwards. We do our normal walks with both his Freedom Harness and a leash to his collar at the moment, so that he gets used to walking completely loose with a leash on his collar. I tell you what, it is a very nice walk too - until he sees a major distraction, when I start backing up. When he is loose at has walked to my left side, I c/t or yes!/treat and walk forward and try again with the distraction. I'll give it as many tries as I can so that Knightley can learn. If he starts going loose as we go past the distraction I go absolutely nuts with the c/ting, just shoving food into his mouth and praising him verbally like a crazy woman. I am sure my neighbours think I am absolutely mad. I am also doing a lot of c/ting for sitting or standing at my side with a leash loose with distractions around. Hopefully it will sink in - although I think the halter I plan on getting (the Comfort Trainer as suggested to me in my last post) will help with that.

I have also been letting the leash on the harness trail on the ground and just using the leash on the collar as the only one to hold onto. This has been nicely effective. He can feel that slight drag and that reminds him that he has the harness on, and yet if he pulls he feels only the collar pressure, and I do the step backwards thing to get him in place before c/ting and walking forward. I try to anticipate him and start walking backwards - tempting him with noises - *before* the leash is actually fully tight. If the leash gets tight without the presence of a very serious distraction, then you are not paying enough attention. Be proactive and don't ever let the leash get tight. Do what needs to be done to lure your dog back to your side with noises and even a hand target, then immediately reward it with your c/t and proceed again. If he walks nicely beside you for even a second or two (face it, there is almost always at least a half second of nice walking before they decide you are boring again, so no excuses), shower it with treats! You walk with me, you get treats. You start trying to forge ahead, I urge you gently back to my side where you get rewarded for doing so, and then I shower you with treats for walking with me again. It is pretty persuasive, especially for a hungry growing puppy.

Anyway, I think you are all caught up with the most important developments here downunder!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Level 2 Homework: 10 reasons why a dog may not obey a command

6 months 1 week 2 days old

This is part of Sue Ailsby's Training Levels. As part of each level you need to do homework, and for Level 2, you need to list 10 reasons why a dog might not obey a command. I've thought about this before and I knew finding 10 things would not be easy. This first couple come to you quickly, but after that..... Well, we'll see!

I have written comments after the reasons in italics, which spell out clearly what I can learn as a trainer from each reason.

1. You may not have your dogs attention when you give the cue

This is especially the case in high distraction environments, where your dog just won't hear you unless you focus him first. However it is applicable everywhere. It is worth saying your dog's name first and maybe doing a few seconds eye contact so you both reconnect before asking for what you want.

2. The connection between behaviour and cue may not have been made yet during training

It can take many repetitions of the cue word and hand signal whilst the dog does the behaviour to have the dog remember it. Some dogs learn cues quickly, others need a lot of repetition. If your dog is consistently not responding to a cue, consider this possibility.

3. You may have upped distractions too quickly in training so that a cue your dog could normally respond to becomes background noise

When teaching a cue, you go through a stage called proofing, where you expose the dog to more and more distractions as you continue to ask for the cue. It should be a gradual increase in distraction level - if you increased the level too quickly the dog will just become completely oblivious to you.

4. Your dog could be sick or just tired out and feel unable to respond

Sickness, heat, being thirsty or hungry, exhausted.... all these things will cause a dog to potentially 'misbehave' . You and your dog are a partnership, be aware of how it is feeling and its needs, and don't work it if it isn't feeling up to it. If it isn't responding to the most basic of cues, that in itself can tell you something about the dogs wellbeing.

5. Your training session may have gone too long and your dog may have lost interest

All dogs have a finite attention span. For puppies it is very short, sometimes only a couple of minutes. For a fully mature working breed it can be about an hour without a break. You should make sure that your dog isn't worked past the point that it still wants more. Once training becomes a chore it becomes either ineffective or actually can do harm to previous training.

6. If you are still at the stage you are training with treats, the treats may not be of high value enough for a difficult cue
When learning cues, treats are always used for reinforcement... but for some more difficult behaviours, more interesting treats must be used. If you are outside in a high distraction area trying to train loose leash and kibble just isn't cutting it, try exchanging it for real meat. Change the treat for every individual situation as necessary.

7. If you have faded treats for the particular cue, you may have done it too early while the cue was half learnt, or done it too suddenly leaving the dog unsure

When you stop using treats with a particular cue, it needs to be done slowly and systematically, not just suddenly cutting the treats off. The dog could become uninterested in working for you, or just confused because it isn't being rewarded for something it is usually - so thinks it is getting it wrong.

8. You yourself may not be feeling well, or may not be in the mood to train and your dog might be reacting to your lack of enthusiasm

Our dogs pick up on our moods and our wellbeing extremely sensitively. If you don't feel like training, don't train. If it's just a random 'sit' that your dog isn't responding to in the course of the day, remember that you being not yourself could have a great deal to do with it.

9. The dog might substitute another 'new' behaviour for the older cue you asked for, because you had been working a lot on the new behaviour and it is used to giving it so doesn't really think -

This happens quite often with a dog who knows sit and then learns down and starts thinking sit means down too and forgets about sit because of the shiny new down.  It is important when concentrating on a new cue that you don't train it to the exclusion of everything else. Continue to train your old behaviours as well as new, so that your dog doesn't start getting confused.

10. The dog could be actively 'rocking the boat', being cheeky, trying to get away with things it knows are pretty naughty

This is especially applicable during adolescence, as the perfect puppy disappears and the evil teenager from hell appears in its place. During training and during the day at any time, you must always act as leader in your house - not boss, but leader. I operate on a Nothing In Life Is Free (NILIF) policy, so that anything good that Knightley wants he has to do something to get it, even filling the water bowl he has to go in a nice polite sit stay until I have finished. This is about respect, which transfers into our training.

EXTRA ONES!!! WHEEE!!! (after racking my brains for days, I have more than 10!!!)

11. The dog could be scared - of the environment, the handler, other dogs... anything.

Some dogs have serious fear problems, and when the fear and shyness takes over, cues become a low priority. There are good techniques in clicker and positive training which can build confidence, like Look At That (from the book Control Unleashed) and BAT (Behaviour Adjustment Training, which I have mentioned before in another post). A good resource for dealing with a fearful dog is http://fearfuldogs.com/

12.  The dog might not be getting out for enough exercise, which can turn them into tightly wound springs - unable to concentrate on the task at hand

All dogs need exercise, as well as the mental stimulation of getting outside. An adult dog needs one good significant walk each day, and a smaller walk too. You can substitute something like time at a dog park for one of those walks, but dogs must get out - for both the exercise and the stimulation of sights and smells. If they don't get this, don't expect an obedient dog

...... and I think that will do. I've actually learnt from doing this, which was of course was rather the point! I am sure the more I thought about it, the more I could come up with, but this is certainly a good chunk of the the main ones. I will think more next time when Knightley doesn't do what I say.