Friday, May 30, 2008

Busy Busy

I had family visit last weekend, so between preparing for that and then recovering afterward, I haven't done much training. There certainly wasn't time to work on loose leash walking, but I did work in some clicker training during feeding time.

It just takes a few minutes per dog to use part of a meal as rewards for clicker training. It adds up pretty quickly, especially if you do it every day.

I've been working on the down with all of the dogs. With Lily, I had already captured the behavior previously (taking her into a small room, letting her get bored, and clicking any time she lay down). It's now one of the behaviors she tries when trying to figure out what will get a click. Now I'm working on attaching the cue "down" to the behavior.

Since Netta hadn't already learned that lying down was a behavior that could get her a click, I used luring to teach it to her. I held a treat over her head until she sat, and then moved it towards the ground to encourage her to lie down. Well, that's how it's supposed to work, but I've never had a dog actually lie down on the first try. Instead, I used shaping in addition to luring. So, at first, all she had to do was tilt her head down a bit when the treat went by, and I clicked her for it. I gradually required more and more movement, until finally she was lying down every time I put my hand on the ground. I got this far in a single lesson that was less than five minutes long. Now I'm working on fading the hand signal, with the eventual goal that she'll lie down with just a small gesture. After that, I'll add the verbal cue.

One really nice result of this training is that when I go out to visit Netta, often she will lie down instead of jumping all over me. I make sure to always give her extra attention if she sits or lies down, and ignore her if she jumps up.

Bibb is less food motivated than the girls, but he loves petting even more than Netta, if that's possible. So he gets pets as well as food as a reward. I did the luring and shaping the down with him, too, although in his case it only took a couple of repetitions before he was throwing himself to the ground before I could even start to lure. He's a very quick study, and the easiest dog I've ever worked with.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ovals Not Enough

Lily is far more intense than the other dogs, and she has many years of practicing bad habits on leash, so I expected the circuit work to go slower with her. We've been working on it for about two weeks, and it really hasn't done much to calm her. She has a very tough neck, and hardly seems to notice that the leash is tight most of the time. I noticed today that she always forged ahead at the same place on the oval, despite walking mostly on a loose leash for the rest of it. That's when I realized that she's merely practicing bad habits on the oval, and if I keep doing everything the same she's not going to get any better. So I switched to figure-eights, still in the same area. I focused on walking my pattern, not on Lily, so I tripped over her a few times. It didn't take long for her to be paying more attention to me than she ever has. Even when I went back to the oval pattern for a few rounds, she stayed intent on staying by my side. I stopped after a few rounds, because I wanted to end on a high note.

In hindsight, I should have figured this out earlier. She's a herding breed, and needs far more to keep her mind occupied than most dogs. I'll keep doing interesting patterns for the next several training sessions, and see how that translates into general loose leash walking for her.

First Real Walk

Today Bibb was doing so well on his circuits that I decided to take him up the street for some more practice with loose leash walking. He is very sensitive to leash pressure, and many times he corrected himself when got too far ahead. We had a very pleasant walk, interspersed with practice sitting.

Kay Laurence: Walk Together, Learn Together DVD

This DVD was discussed on a clicker training email list that I subscribe to. The system is supposed to calm down excited dogs by walking in an oval repeatedly. After several times around, the dog begins to focus on the handler instead of all the distractions.

Unfortunately, my library does not have this DVD (nor any of Kay Laurence's books), so for now I'll have to rely on the description in the emails. What I've been doing is I start with an oval at the bottom of the yard. Once the dog is paying attention to me, I turn down the alley (where there are lots of scent distractions). As long as the dog keeps the leash loose, we keep walking. I have enough slack in the leash that the dog can sniff as long as he is right next to me. The moment the leash tightens, I immediately turn back into a new circuit (or if I'm close enough, I'll return to the old one). I figure that a half hour walk is a half hour walk, whether we spend the time completely in the backyard or we walk halfway across town.

This has actually been working quite well, and it's very relaxing to just focus on walking a circuit. I get into a meditative state of mind, and after a while it seems that the dog does, too. I definitely want to buy the DVD when I get the chance.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I took Netta in to be spayed today, and she also got her shots and a microchip. It's been nearly a month since I found her, and nobody responded to the posters I put up, so at this point I consider her to be my dog. We just need to get her county license now, and then she'll be set. She came through surgery beautifully, and hardly seems drugged at all. It's such a relief not to have an intact female around anymore.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Meet Bibb

Bibb showed up in town almost a week after we found Netta, and he made a beeline for our house. He spent a week hanging around our yard, but he would disappear down the alley if anyone approached him. He was very skittish, and despite being hungry he was very wary of the food I put out for him. He spent a week observing me as I worked with Netta before he worked up the courage to approach me. In that moment, his demeanor changed absolutely. He went from an aloof, nervous loner to a fawning love bug.

Bibb looks a lot like Netta, and they both were strays at about the same time, so I strongly suspect that they both came from the same place.

He has a very sweet personality, but it seems likely that he was abused at some point. He cringes if he is approached too quickly, especially by a man.

Current Training

I don't think he had any training before he came to me, but he is picking things up so quickly that it's hard to tell. He's the furthest along with loose leash walking, despite being the newest addition. I introduced the sit, and within minutes he was sitting automatically whenever I stopped, before I could even give the cue.

Training Goals

Basic obedience and house training, to start. After that I'll have a better idea of his talents for further training.

Meet Netta

We found Netta trotting down a county road a few miles outside of town in late April, 2008. She was tired and hungry, but otherwise in good shape. We had the space for another dog so we decided to take her home. I made up posters with her photo and put them up in our town and neighboring ones, but no one ever called.

She looks like she might be a Black Mouth Cur, or some mix containing it. I plan to send some photos of her to a breeder to see what he thinks, since I've never seen examples of the breed in person.

Netta is a very energetic young dog, but she calms down pretty quickly once she is given a task to do. She bonded to me within a day, and needs a lot of attention to keep her happy.

Current Training

Netta came to us completely untrained. I've been working on her loose leash walking, and she improves every day.

Training Goals

Basic obedience and reliable house training are the main goals right now.

Meet Lily

Lily is a five-year-old Australian Cattle Dog, or so her former owners claimed. She has a lighter build than the show ACDs, but perhaps she's from the unregistered lines that were heavily imported to the United States. Or maybe she's just a mutt.

When she was three, Lily's owners decided to sell her for $50 because they were moving out of state and didn't want to take her. She had no formal training, but they had managed to instill a pretty good recall. They had tried to breed her a few times, but it was never successfull. I had her spayed soon after buying her.

Lily is energetic with a strong prey drive. The day after I got her, she flushed a deer in the woods and tore the leash right out of my hands to chase it. Several minutes later I managed to work my way ahead of their path, and she was still hot on the heels of that deer. Fortunately, Lily was tired enough that I was able to catch her.

Current Training
She has learned sit, stay, and crate training thoroughly. Her recall is generally excellent, unless she is in prey mode. Her biggest challenge is loose leash walking. I have tried several different methods, but so far none of them have made much difference.

Training Goals

My big goal is to get her consistently walking on a loose leash. Secondary goals are to get her reliable on stay, come, and down, so that she can be evaluated for herding training. In the long term, I would like to train her in either herding or tracking.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Purpose

I have read that many of the dogs that end up in shelters or rescue are there because of lack of training. People get a cute puppy but have no idea how to socialize or train it, and it grows up into an unmannered, annoying dog.

All three of my dogs probably fit this profile. One was advertised in a newspaper for $50 and the other two were strays. All of them came to me with little or no training. This blog will serve as a training journal to keep track of their progress (and to motivate me to keep working). There will also be occasional articles about training techniques, dog breeders, shelters, and anything else dog related.

I am not a professional trainer. I am merely a novice who wishes to improve the lives of her dogs. I'm not married to any one training regimen; I read widely and try out those techniques that seem promising. I prefer positive training systems, mostly because a beginner (me) causes less damage through timing mistakes.

In the next few posts, I'll introduce the dogs and their current training levels.