Saturday, January 18, 2014

16 Months: Training - Days 246 - 250


Are you awake?  I need to pee.
Emma was in a much better mood on her arrival than she had been on her departure.  Poor girl had me worried.  I think the 2 weeks of rest time helped and my changing how things work here helped too.  I had more changes in mind to help her learn better and a new plan on place after seeing the bell curve her week was previously. I would rather a more stable week and if a single, quiet public access outing continues to create such a bell curve in her week and doesn't flatten out and become a stable learning curve, I will have to make the decision she'll work in home only for her handler and not push her any further on the public access.  I will make this decision after the 18 month mark, but work slowly on her public access material to see if she can't find a balance in the meantime.

I had mentioned this to her owner, who understood that I could never promise she would work out as a public access dog and understood that at some point I would need to make an honest evaluation of her ability to work in public and decide what is best for her emotionally.  I am glad she understands that and understands that even as an in home service dog, Emma will provide a great deal of support and independence for their son.

Part of the problem is Emma internalizes her stress when out which results in her displaying stress signs at home.  She become harder to work with, more fearful and less willing to join training because of this.  The trick is to build her confidence in small increments and hope, by the time she's out of this fear period, we've shored her up enough she can do her job in public as well as home.  If not, then Emma will be designated for in home service work only and we'll focus on how she can do her job in that setting.

Part of that is giving her more space while we are training and reassuring her she's safe during our training sessions.  High rate of re-enforcement and no wrong choices when we set out to train will make things easier on her.  Since I had a busy weekend and didn't get my household chores done during it, I decided to start our morning a bit differently.  I decided to do the chores first and get my house in order to make my mood better.

Emma has had a problem with the vacuum since she was little, so I was very pleased to see her carrying a bone around me while I vacuumed and not running to hide.  She was stressed, but not so stressed she'd decided she needed to hide.  What a lovely change.  I have been, since our return from vacation, rewarding her coming out of hiding and ignoring her going into hiding.  It's improved her mood and made her less worried about the world around her.  I am glad I worked that out over vacation - I like this change in her mood.

After that I got the dishes, laundry and steaming of the floor done.  I normally feed the dogs between 8:30 AM and 9 AM when I am feeding them out of their bowls, and generally have training for all three done by 9:30 AM when training for kibble.  This time I didn't even start until almost 10 AM and worked with Emma last, which made her meal nearly 11 AM by the time I started.  The change was immediate - she took her first kibble without hesitation and worked straight through with a better body language than previously.

I also decided to change her warm up routine from basic Level 1 behaviors to Click to Calm lessons.  I played the Up/Down game and the Side to Side game (much like the Come Game) and LAT with her.  She is worried about Max and Jack on the other side of the gate and being gated in the kitchen with me.  That's okay, we'll work on her confidence in this setting and relieve that worry and then work on training.

For Rounds 2 and 3 we just worked on Tug Tasks.  She again couldn't focus and it turned into a LAT session instead.  I had Malcolm in the crate, but just having Max and Jack on the other side of the gate and laying quietly was a bit overwhelming for her, so whenever she peered at them I clicked and rewarded.  By the end of Round 3 she was up to taking the tug in her mouth and starting to pull back - she chose to return to the lesson on her own, I just went with what she needed and helped her regain focus.

Since I had a long day with Jack I didn't do another training session with her.  Instead, when it was time for dinner I put the gate back up and gave her her food in the kitchen and left the kitchen.  She took about 2 minutes to decide she could eat in peace and ate the rest of her daily allotment of food.  Excellent.


We are having a much better week!
Sending the dogs out to play when Jack arrives has improved everyone's mood.  Emma and Jack and Malcolm have a high romp in the yard for about 15 minutes and come in happy and tired.  It's been a good choice to stop having the flooding of four dogs mugging Jack the moment he comes in and my trying to calm everyone down from their high excitement of having him join the party.

I again waited for a late start on the day for training Emma.  Making her a bit hungry helps her want to train and I wanted to see if the day before was a bit of a fluke or a solid observation.  I got my shower in and watched a bit of TV and ate my breakfast (which I normally don't do) and let the dogs have   a couple good romps outside before pulling up the bowls and starting the lessons for the day.

Emma is no longer defaulting to behind my recliner and is instead just laying in it and relaxing.  She watches me approach and doesn't move to get out unless I ask and accepts my pats on her head without stress signs.  It's a good thing.  When she comes to see what I am doing or checks in somehow I reward with praise, affection or food.  She is becoming more a part of the herd of dog seeking what I am doing and less the dog who goes and hides when I am surrounded.  Nice to see.

I gated the kitchen to work with Jack and Emma raised her head.  Seeing the gate goes up means its her time with me and I am seeing an interest in that.  Nice.  After I finished with Jack she came to me and we started out lesson.  I once again did Click to Calm games of Up/Down, Side to Side and Clicking for every two steps while she followed me.  Once again she was eating without hesitation, which is fantastic, this means her stress levels are lowering and she's feeling more confident.  She is still slow in her movements on the Side to Side and Up/Down game, but I am seeing an improvement in speed in the Up/Down game.  She seemed to calm the most with the moving game.  

In the beginning of the three minutes she was a bit hunched, a bit low and her tail was tight to her rear.  At the end of the three minutes she was standing tall, her tail was relaxed and she wasn't hunched as much as when we started.  The hunching and slow response was about all that told me she was still feeling stress.

For Rounds 2 and 3 I wanted to work on Tug, but she needed to work on LAT.  I had left Malcolm out of his crate this time and though he wasn't whining or banging on the gate, his presence was hard on her.  I worked LAT for the entire second round with only two attempts to work on Tug by her choice.  For the 3rd round I switched from clicking when she looked to clicking when she looked back.  In the second round she was stuck staring at the other dogs and while she was sitting, her body was clearly tense and her shoulders were rolled and her head was ducked down a bit.  By the end of the second round she was relaxed, her shoulders were square and her head was up and her ears were flaring forward as she looked.  This meant she wasn't so much stuck as I wasn't giving her time to choose to look away.  On the third round I withheld the click and she turned to look at me.  Her body was still relaxed and her head still high and her ears still flaring forward to look at the other dogs.  It was a relaxed look at them and wait for the click.  Okay, good, now I want her to focus on me and not them.

It worked, she could look at them and back to me and off and on offer a look, touch or grip on the tug.  We didn't get anywhere on the tug task, but we got somewhere on confidence.  She stood up and I saw her tail flash with a wag whenever I clicked.  Her tail was loose, her head was up, she breathing was normal, her focus was improving and her body was tall.  It was the best session ever, it was true communication between us and not a single word was said by me.  I just clicked to tell her that I got it, the boys worried her with that gate, and it was okay and she could work on her task and be safe.  Fantastic communication.

Just now the kids (also known as dogs) all got to rumbling around me while I sat working on the IPad typing this blog in my wheelchair.  I had just moved to get the sun out of my eyes and had deployed my cup holder for my Pepsi and set my e-cig on the holder while I worked.  Malcolm came around that side of the chair and knocked it off.  Emma went through the throng of milling dogs, picked up the e-cig, walked around to my more open side and handed it to me.  That folks, is the first sign her confidence is truly improving.  She got lots of love for such a fantastic auto retrieve.  Good girl!


Good morning sleepy head.
Good lord, it's 10 PM already and I still have Jack's blog to update before bed.  What long days I have during the week.  No wonder all I want to do on the weekends is nothing!

Emma woke me just prior to 7:30 AM this morning with her insistence to go outside.  I let her and the boys out for their potty run and when they came in curled up in bed with them.  She loves to drape across my body first thing in the morning while I wait for the pain of first standing on my feet to leave and the spasms in my legs to let up.

While she was turning upside down and trying very hard to win Cutest Dog on the Planet contest, I noticed that Malcolm, who normally goes in the other room and then returns every 5 to 10 minutes, had not returned for 15.  I got up to find he'd been destuffing my recliner through a hole in the seat.  It was decided at that moment I should cover it and thus the picture you see shows Emma on the newly covered recliner.

My morning schedule that thrown for a loop right after my morning coffee.  Having quickly showered and dressed after Jack's arrival and the mighty romp and run in the yard they enjoy each morning, I decided I would actually sit down and enjoy my morning coffee instead of drinking it while training.  I had just started Malcolm's training and finished his first round when my oldest called.  The phone call resulted in an hour and half delay in getting back to training the dogs and a 15 minute remind and recoup after getting off of the phone.  I didn't get to Emma for training until almost 11:30 AM.

I filmed all of the dog's morning lessons.  I wanted a base line of Emma's mid-week behavior prior to her public access outing so I could film her after she'd been out and see how much body language differences I could see.  I have attached that video for your review.

Click to Calm/Tug/LAT

We are working on confidence building, so our first lesson is a couple of pattern games - the Up/Down game and the Ping Pong game.  Her speed on bringing her head up and her going to get the treats when I toss them has improved.  I am glad to see that.  The cat came in during that round and Emma was thrown a bit by her being there, but continued to work with me.  The pattern games are helping her - she doesn't have to think, just follow a pattern and therefore it calms her.

We went to work on Tug for Rounds 2 and 3 and she was needing to do LAT less and could work on Tug more.  She was up to lifting and pulling back on the tug rope by the end of Round 2.  It was Round 3 that went sideways.  Max, who had been laying quietly outside of the gate, decided to charge it due to the cat.  He banged the gate and went into a bark and bang fest for a moment and then went into a more active circle and bark fest in the living room.  Poor Emma lost all thoughts of Tug and turned to face the gate and moved closer to me.  Her tail was tight to her hind end, but not tucked.  Her head was up, but her body was tense.  Her body was up, but she was very still.  She was taking in the situation and could take food still and moved closer to me because I am a safety zone, but she couldn't focus to work anymore.

In the afternoon we went in to work on Tug again and Emma simply couldn't not stare at the gate.  I simply sat on the floor and worked with her on handing me her paw or touching my hand or giving me a down.  Her focus is gone again, but she's not so over threshold she can't eat.  I may not be as set back as I had thought in the morning, but I will have to work carefully to get her confidence shored up.

I do have to say, Emma has taught me a great deal about working with a soft dog and splitting behaviors in to very tiny bites to increase success.  Letting her lead me on her ability to work and giving her a chance to resolve some of her worry has truly improved both our communication and I am happy she's helping me become a better trainer overall.

I offered her another quarter cup of food when I fed the other dogs their dinner, but she didn't want it.  She self regulates on how much she eats and I respect that.  She'd eaten all of her food (she eats a cup of kibble a day) and I wasn't worried about her calorie intake, just her tummy being a bit grumbly during the night.  The night carrot will help with that.


She loves to curl up where Attitude used to always sleep.
I had planned to take Emma out this week for a public access run, but circumstances on Wednesday, the day I planned it, resulted in it not happening and today I came to the conclusion I didn't want to take her out this week.  Instead I want to build up her confidence and not tank her week by taking her out when she's having a fairly good week.  She's been more up than down, more confident than fearful and more engaged that hiding - why mess with that when I can spend some time building up the skills she'll need to do better in public access settings?

Instead we just played Click to Calm games, tug and other fun things that Emma enjoys to feed her her breakfast.  She's getting better about eating her kibble, but not like the other dogs do.  Max, Malcolm, Dieter and Jack would happily stand on their heads for a bit of kibble as a reward.  Mind you, Jack, Max and Malcolm are less excited about kibble as a reward in a higher distraction area than the house so we use higher value food for those times, but in the house kibble should be a solid and worthwhile reward and it is.  For Emma, kibble is a hit or miss reward and if she's even slightly off in her mood she won't take it.  This makes progress with her very hard due to inconsistent training sessions.

I had a similar situation with Jack when I was working with him prior to the vacation.  Though kibble was a perfectly good reward his ability to focus was inconsistent and so some sessions he was spot on and some he was so food stupid he couldn't think his way out of a box.  I was in a holding pattern with him and couldn't seem to get anywhere when he suddenly became so focused on the food he couldn't learn any longer.  The answer for Jack was Zen.  We worked hard for the month of December on It's Yer Choice and Zen and on his return I had a dog who was flying through his lessons because he could suddenly think.

I have two problems with Emma which actually may be a single problem - Emma doesn't know how to eat.  When she arrived Attitude was in the end stages of congestive heart failure and eating high value foods just to get her to eat.  Max, Dieter and Emma all found her food far more interesting than their kibble and I can't blame them.  She had raw medallions of beef, lamb or chicken at one point and porridge another (which had lots of tasty smells) and in the end grain free moist food.  It's hard to eat kibble when one bowl in the house smells like heaven.  I put a little of whatever Attitude was eating on the other dog's food to get them to eat their food and leave hers alone.  Emma learned that kibble came with high value food.  Period.

After Attitude died I had moist food to finish before it went bad (I had bought a new case of food) and so every dog got a spoonful of moist on their food for a while and it was my mistake that I kept buying it and adding it to their bowls.  When my money became too tight to continue the practice I went back to straight up kibble and low and behold Jack, Dieter and Max happily ate the dry kibble without complaint.  They had been taught to eat (we taught Jack to eat when he first arrived).  Emma, who returned to a new training system with dry kibble as the reward for the day couldn't make the change.  She gets water on her food at her home during the weekends and had been getting moist here and suddenly she's but on bread and water rations according to her.  She's picky, like little Attitude had been, and it's affecting our training.

So, starting tonight I decided to train her to eat.  This morning told me how important it was to do so.  She's eating the kibble, but her ability to focus is not as good as I would like and her communication of whether she's too worried to eat about a change in her environment or she's not willing to eat because of her level of hunger isn't clear.  So, tonight when I offered her her dinner I counted slowly to 5 and picked up the bowl when she didn't eat.  She actually looked surprised I had done so.  I think she's grown used to our pleading she eat and to tell the truth I went through that long enough with Attitude I am not going to do it with a perfectly healthy 16 month old dog.

I will email the family and ask them to read that section in the book and implement it at their home also.  Until Emma is eating with the same gusto that everyone else does we won't make progress.  She needs to know how to eat - period.


Emma just being Emma.

I started the protocol for training Emma to eat last night.  She was offered her food, given a slow count of five, didn't eat her food and it was picked up.  This morning she came in with Dieter and Max after playing in the yard with all of the dogs.  I fed Max, Dieter and her while Jack and Malcolm played in the yard.  I took her into the kitchen, set her food down and walked 5 feet away from it and did a slow count to five.  This time she approached the bowl and sniffed the food, but turned away and walked to me and sat behind me like the food scared her.  I picked up her bowl and put it away.

This may seem like a cruel thing, but not knowing how to eat can cause problems overall.  I have 3 dogs of my own I feed on a schedule.  I know how much they eat, I can tell when they don't feel well because they don't eat and I can catch a problem sooner because of that.  Dieter, who ruptured a disc right after Attitude died, is still walking because I caught he wasn't feeling well long before I realized he'd injured his back.  He wasn't crying or dragging his feet yet, but he was a bit roached (which I took note of when he turned away from his bowl) and he refused to eat.  Dieter would eat dirt if I put it in his bowl, so his not eating was a clue to his well being.

Emma can and does refuse to eat on an almost daily basis.  I can't tell if it's because today the food didn't meet her expectations, she wasn't hungry when I offered it or she's not feeling well.  This could lead to missing a serious problem in her future and not getting the medical treatment she needs in a timely fashion.

As a working dog or a pet dog, being on a schedule makes it easier to potty the dog when they have to go.  Knowing about how long after a meal she needs to poop makes it easier to plan when to give her a meal if you have to be away from the house or if she's working in public, how long before you leave so she's not uncomfortable during the outing.  This can't be done with a dog who free feeds because they are filling their belly off and on and so don't have a set schedule for when they need to go.

A dog who quickly eats their meal makes it easier to feed in the morning or evening when you are in a hurry.  There have been times I needed to go to an appointment after Max's dinner time and fed him quickly before we left.  He was able to finish his meal in a couple of minutes and be ready to go without causing an undue delay.  With his stomach full, he was able to relax during the appointment and sleep.

And finally, Max, Dieter, Malcolm and Jack will work for the food I feed them because it has value.  If they don't eat what I offer they may not be offered anything else.  Emma is willing to see if what is offered will be replaced with something better.  Raising the value of her kibble makes training her in the home easier and maintaining her weight easier.

So, what we are doing is vitally important on a lot of levels for Emma's overall well being.  It isn't cruel to let her decide that what is offered is of value and to eat it when offered.  She won't starve herself and she will be easier to train.  Mind you, I have known of one dog who couldn't be taught to eat and it turned out to be a fatal health issue that over time took his life.  If Emma cannot learn to eat we have more concerns than if she'll do a retrieve or learn to tug open a door.  I don't see any health issues with Emma.  There were other signs with the dog who couldn't learn to eat - small signs that were clear in hindsight which Emma doesn't display.  I believe we just need to make her kibble of value to her and she'll take an interest in working for it.

So, the remainder of our day was rewarding good behavior with play and praise and just letting her be a dog.  We will continue to work on training her to eat for the next couple of week to improve her desire to work and return to working on confidence and task training once we have achieved our goal.  In the meantime I will work on confidence by using praise and play as motivators.

Level 1
Zen Target Come Sit Down
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed

Level 2
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step Completed Completed Completed Completed Completed
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 3 Completed 2 Completed 2
Jump Relax Handling Tricks Communication
Step 1 3 Completed Completed Completed

Level 3
Zen Come Sit Down Target
Step 3 Completed 2 1 1
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 Completed 0 4 0
Jump Relax Handling Retrieve Communication
Step Completed 2 Completed Completed 1

Level 4
Zen Come Retrieve Target Relax
Step Completed 0 Completed 0 0
Focus Lazy Leash Go To Mat Crate Distance
Step 0 Completed 0 5 0
Handling Communication

Step Completed 0

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