Friday, January 24, 2014

16 Months: Training - Days 251 - 254

Emma before we started her new protocol.

I make an effort to meet Emma's owner outside when she drops Emma off so I can watch and evaluate their communication when walking.  I have been slowly fine tuning it and trying my best to help the walk from the car to me improve over time, but it's still been a bit off and it wasn't until the last time she had been dropped off I realized what it was.  Emma has a bad habit of sniffing the ground when she's walking and not paying any attention to her handler, not just her owner but I experience it also at least half of the time.  I had worked on it with her by adjusting how I hold the lead and how I communicate through it and was happy with her improvement with me.  I had then relayed to her owner that to keep her head from going down they needed to shorten the lead so she had less of a chance of sniffing.  What I didn't relay was a proper way to hold the lead.

Emma is their second dog and as hard as they are working to learn and understand her, they don't have the experience I do with dogs.  I have lived with, walked and raised dogs all of my life.  I have a ton of experience of holding a lead and just walking with the dog with a relaxed body and relaxed lead.  They do not.  It's like driving a car or learning to skate.  There is hesitation and a ton of things that need to be remembered and put into muscle memory.  Do you remember when you first started driving?  Checking the gauges, looking in the mirrors, making sure you were in alignment in the lane, gauging how wide the car was and more were ALL on your mind ALL at once and there was a lot of slow movement and hesitation in figuring out how to park or turn a corner.  Driving in a straight line didn't come naturally and only with experience did it become second nature.  The though of drinking a cup of coffee and eating a burger while turning up the volume on the radio and driving at the same time would have been overwhelming!  It's the same when learning how to walk with a dog and keep it fluid and the communication clear - a hundred tiny things to figure out and remember and try to do and all the while you are WALKING at the same time.  No wonder it is a struggle for both ends of the leash.

Now some dogs make it look easy.  They just get it and walk nice and loose on the lead and plod along at your pace.  Some people also never had the struggles of learning to drive either; they just got into the car and drove and it was perfectly natural.  Some people have the knack to get it and work a dog without hesitation or issue and the dog just gets it and follows along.  Some people can put on roller blades or skates and just go too.  Those people or dogs are rare and Emma is not one who just gets it nor is her owner able to just pick up the lead and have that wonderful communication.  There is nothing wrong with it and the family is doing nothing wrong, but it does mean I need to evaluate what I now do naturally (having driven a dog since childhood) and must break apart and share.

Thus, this morning I met her halfway down the ramp and explained why things were going a bit funky with poor Emma.  She had the leash in her right hand (the tail of it) and about halfway up the length of the leash she had in her left hand and she was lifting up (as per my instructions as she understood them) making a straight line from her to Emma with the leash and putting tension on the leash at all times.  This triggers an opposition reflex in the dog, which she wouldn't know, and for Emma adds stress to the generally pleasant walking experience.  How to explain what I do that is different and explains things better, but helps keep Emma's nose up?

We discussed it and I took Emma's lead (her excitement level was perfect, she was thrilled to be there and excited by the smells and totally distracted) and I curled the leash in a loop in my left hand to take up the excess amount and left about 1 to 1 1/2 foot between her and I - IE, just enough to let the leash be loose when we walk and my hand hangs down (the owner had her hand about shoulder height to keep the leash high enough to prevent her from sniffing) and just short enough to prevent her nose from reaching the ground without my knowing and being able to gently curl my wrist and shorten it just enough to catch her attention (without a leash pop or correction) as her head went down and bring her attention back to me.  My body was relaxed, my arm hanging normally at my side and I made myself a bit more exciting than the environment and got her into position and we walked up to her owner with minor sniffing and mostly loose lead.  I explained what I was doing and what I was looking for to prevent her from pulling by activating the reflex and give her a bit more communication through the lead that wasn't tense or worried - which trust me, I have fed that down a lead in the past also and it just makes the dog more anxious.  It took  me a long time to realize that was EXACTLY what I was doing to Dieter and a longer time to fix my own mistake.

I then handed the lead back to the owner and had her walk Emma up to me (about 5 to 7 feet) and low and behold Emma was paying attention to her suddenly and doing a nice job.  I have to say, her owner did a great job of listening and working with me and I appreciate the effort she put in.  It isn't easy to learn how to walk a dog where the two of you are in perfect sync, but once you know how it feels, boy howdy, do you want to have every dog from the point on do the same thing.  I may have to have her walk Jack sometime to feel it.  Jack is the best lead trained dog I have right now and he's like walking air.

Over the weekend Emma's owner worked on the protocol for Teach Your Dog to Eat.  They stuck to their guns and Emma was eating without issues and completing her meals by the time they brought her back.  Since Emma lives in two houses and there are, by default, difference in rules and structure in both home, she decided to try this morning to see if the new rules at her other home were the same ones here.  She is ONLY working on this protocol until she's eating with relish and looking for more when she finishes and not training task or basic skills at this time.

I set her bowl down, counted to five slowly and when she just stood looking at me picked her bowl up and set it aside for the day.  That was it.  It's a huge thing to train a dog to eat and the protocol that Sue Ailsby uses is highly effective and has taught all the other dogs in the house that have done it to eat and work for food.  It's Emma's turn and she's learning.

The rest of the day we used play to build impulse control and just enjoyed being together.  Her first day or two in my house is a no snuggle day due to some perfume the family uses in the home.  It makes my sinus' swell and makes it hard for me to breath.  It also makes my eyes water.  It's not strong on her coat most of the time, but due to her coat type it is deeply embedded by the time she returns and any very close contact causes me to react.  The last few times I have had troubles breathing if she puts her fur up in my face and I get a deep breath of it.  I am allergic to it and need to let her air out a bit before I can be close to her.  I need to find a better spray to put on her coat to remove the scent so I can be close to her sooner.  She's starting to get it though. She'll curl against me, but not put her head in my face until I invite her too.  It's a solution, but no the best.  Poor girl loves to cuddle.  Being able to play and get that type of interaction is important, since her favorite full body contact is out for a short time.

She is doing very well on her impulse control in play, but gets very jumpy.  At mid-day I decided to click for her feet hitting the floor and reward with physical contact.  I have muted the clicker I use in the house and can carry in my pockets and she's responding better to it. The instant I clicked and then petted her she lit up.  Very good.  We'll use that for a while and build impulse control while she works on learning to eat.

This evening when I put her food down she decided I was as serious as her owners about her eating her food and ate her entire dinner with only a brief stop to peer at me when I blocked the other dogs from entering the kitchen while she was eating.  After that she didn't stop eating until she finished.  Slowly she'll build confidence in eating with me nearby (a problem for her) and with the other dogs moving around (a problem for her) and with the gate opened or closed (closed is a problem for her) and learn that eating is safe and easy to do.

Wish us luck!

Hey, I was here first!

Emma is out of the food her family feeds her at my home and her family was supposed to bring me some when they dropped her off this week.  By accident it was forgotten and her owner stated she would bring it this morning.  Jack was not due to come today due to a schedule conflict, so I took a bit of extra time letting the muscles in my legs wake up before starting our day.  Emma had been fussy all night and woke me several times when she flopped across my legs or body slammed my legs.  It was always my legs and below my knees, so I think her sensitive self was aware I was in a great deal of pain - which was why I hadn't been able to fall asleep until well after 1 AM.  She's never done this before, but I suspect her boy has bad leg nights and she's grown used to pinning them to help him rest.  That is what it felt like she was trying to do - stop my legs from doing the jig.

I had expected her family to arrive with her food between 7:30 AM and 8:30 AM and so was waiting for them at that time.  Generally they arrive at the end of the hour, so I got my coffee and let them out for a run and then started to do my dishes, but my feet and hip still hurt, though not as bad as they did the day before.  Read Malcolm's post for this week to discover what type of day I truly had.

By 9 AM it was clear that her family had forgotten to bring her food, so I decided to feed her the same food my dogs eat and got everyone's breakfast.  I am currently feeding Emma out of a ceramic bowl after the fear reaction she had of the metal bowl when she returned.  I don't know what type of bowl she eats out of at home, but I am working up to her being able to pick up and hand her bowl to her handler to make it easier for him to be part of her daily care giving.  To do this she needs to eat out of a metal bowl (plastic bowls tend to collect bacteria and speed up the graying of the muzzle) and learn to pick it up.  When she was 4 months old I accidentally dropped her metal bowl right in front of her and frightened her badly.  It took months to recover from that one incident.

Before she went on vacation she was eating out of the metal bowl, but she was still stiff in the hind legs and a little leery of it, but I was seeing her relax more each day with the bowl.  She was able to slide it along the floor and had heard it drop a few times and not freak out.  When she returned she was back to the almost peeing herself frightened of the bowl.  Not sure if it's a phase and she just needs a little break from it or what, but I first want her willing to eat and THEN reintroduce the metal bowl and re-teach her to eat from it.

She is eating now without too much hesitation.  She goes right to the bowl and starts eating within 1 second of being released to eat.  She raised her head once today while I was moving to block Malcolm and Max from entering the kitchen while she ate, but went right back to her meal and finished it.  I am introducing distractions while eating slowly.  I have stopped shutting the gate and have turned my back on her.  That helped.  I stood still yesterday, but today moved around while she ate.  As she finished I let the dogs into the kitchen and retrieved her bowl.

The rest of the day would be spent cuddling and playing and visiting with a friend who dropped by.  She was very happy to meet him and curled up in his arms for a while during our visit.  In the evening I put her bowl down and this time waited until she was almost done before letting the dogs into the kitchen.  She was eating without issue and even with Malcolm standing close to her she continued to eat and finished her meal.

For the remainder of this week she'll work out of the ceramic bowl and I'll just allow the dogs into the room sooner until she's okay with the idea of them being in the room while she eats.  Next week we'll start from the beginning with the metal bowl and do it all over again.  By the end of next week she should be completely reset on her eating habits and I can, near the end of the week, start training her with some of her kibble.

Upper Left: Dieter, Middle Left: Emma, Middle Right: Malcolm,
Lower Left: Max and Lower Right: Jack

It's funny how teaching Emma to eat improves her overall confidence.  I have been slowly introducing distractions in the room she's in while she's eating.  First it was my being in the room and still and then my being in the room and moving and then I added the dogs entering the room while she was just finishing her meal and finally the dogs entering the room while she's eating her meal.  She's able to eat without stopping now and there is not hesitation in her starting her meal.  I still see some stiffness in her body, but it's slowly leaving and her confidence each meal is increasing.

This change in her is bleeding over into her daily life.  Since I am not clicker training her while we work on her learning to eat I play games or just cuddle with her during the day.  Mostly, I am teaching her she's okay even if I am not paying attention to her.  She's always been one of those dogs that needs a ton of input from her humans to feel secure.  She wants verbal, physical and emotional support on an almost constant basis and it's truly exhausting.  These past two weeks I have rewarded her with affection and attention or food when she came out from behind my recliner and whenever I pass the recliner and she's laying in it I just stroke the top of her head and look at her.  It seems to be just enough to make her feel okay with her world.

When I am relaxing in my chair and I don't want a dog on me she's learned she can lay at my feet and it's okay.  She's discovered she can go into the big crate and enjoy a bone and all I do is walk by and praise her.  She's also learning that getting excited and barking gets her nowhere.  She's started this bounce and bark habit in the past month when I get up or it's time to go outside and it riles the whole house up.  It doesn't help Max does much the same with yakking at me in GSD speak and I am now hearing Emma use the various vocalizations he uses when she wants to convey her excitement to me.

Today I simply stopped and ignored every dog in the house when she and Max got into a bark off.  Once they quieted I would take a step and if they barked and wound up again I stopped.  It took 20 minutes to cross from my kitchen to my front door, but both her and Max got the message and it was quieter going to the door for the remainder of the day.

She also learned that going into leaping fits of excitement stopped my progress to the door and she's calming down a bit on that too.  It's a work in progress, but every dog in the house is given the choice to be over excited and stay in or calm and go out.  Since the reward is to go play outside, they are quickly picking up on the rules.

She is quickly and without fear or hesitation going into the smaller molded crate when I call her name and cue her.  She is staying quiet in the crate and waiting to be released whenever I have company come without fussing or protesting.  The new routine of crating her and Jack, putting Max in the office and Dieter in the bathroom and clipping a lead on Malcolm has helped with answering the door.  Every so often Emma or Jack will go in a room with either Max or Dieter on their own and I am okay with that - I just want them to have a given routine and to know mugging guests is not okay.

Today I dropped a bowl while working with Jack.  I was in the kitchen and Emma was in my recliner.  I glanced to see how she reacted and she didn't even hardly move and then decided to lift her head and watch me calmly over the arm of the chair.  This same event a month ago would have been too much for her and she would have run behind my chair.  I was very pleased to see that.

Later I was talking to her while I stood behind the gate to the kitchen and tapping and rattling it while she stood less than six inches from it and she was upbeat and didn't show stress or fear signs.  This is also a huge change from the week before when the gate and the sounds of the gate bothered her.  This evening I was playing fetch with Max and the ball banged and bounced off the gate while it leaned against the wall and she didn't flinch or become worried and when the gate to the bedroom fell and rattled a storm she startled, but recovered quickly and checked in with me to see if she should be worried.

These are all huge changes for her and I am happy to see them.  Right now, while she's learning to eat, we are not going on public access outings.  I am getting a solid baseline for her mood and her ability to handle stress now that she's eating well and feels more confident and when we return to public access training with her again I will get a better idea of what is and isn't causing her high stress and what type of fall out a public access outing causes her.

This has been a good thing, teaching her to eat, and I believe it will help her progress faster once we are done with this training protocol.


It's been a productive week with Emma.  She is eating each meal without hesitation and faster each day.  She is not nearly as worried when she's eating and she can now handle sounds and movement and other dogs while eating.  Her confidence slowly improved with the praise and affection for randomly asked for known behaviors and not being forced to work for her food during this time period.

Today I share a video with you of Emma on a Friday and looking pretty happy and confident.  If you review the videos from this month you'll see not long ago my first Friday video was of Emma being almost completely shutdown and unable to train until I did something to build her confidence.  Even then, she wasn't relaxed or happy or even in the game.  There was a ton of worry in her body language in that video.  My next video showed her training and looking much better, but still not fully in the game but happier and more relaxed - that second video was shot less than a week later.  The next video, shot one week after the first showed Emma up and happy and a in a much better mood, but we weren't training, just playing.  It was the contrast between the second and third videos that helped a friend and I deduce that Emma is uncomfortable with the more serious structure of training and we'd need to make some changes for her to make training fun.

So, stage one - train her to eat.  This part is going very well and next week we'll be working on training her to eat from a metal bowl as well as she eats from a ceramic bowl.  The next step was using praise, affection and play to get behaviors she already knew and associate them as rewards and keep focus.  I have worked on that this week.  The video above shows the outcome of that.  She's not totally up, but her focus has improved by droves and she's able to do more and work harder with me this time and with less fall out afterwards.

I will introduce praise, affection and play paired with food to make food give her the same happy feelings the former does and start working on basic behaviors to do that to improve success.  Hopefully, by the end of next week I will see almost no fallout after training and a happier dog as a result.

By fallout I mean stress signs.  After the video I shot today Emma climbed in my chair and went into stress relieving chewing on a bone for about 15 minutes.  This behavior should reduce when she is in the game and she'll be able to handle stress overall better as a result.

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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