Poor Squid

Poor Squid has had a rough week. She started throwing up on Monday morning and didn’t keep any food or water all day. I wasn’t particularly worried, since she seemed like her normal, happy self. When I woke up on Tuesday, I discovered that she had sneaked downstairs many times during the night and left around eight yellow puddles on the floor. I also realized that she was in a lot of pain (she would close her eyes and bow) and seemed to loose her balance at times. We went straight to the vet, where they took some blood samples (that showed nothing out of the ordinary, except that she was dehydrated) and examined her. She had to stay for over 24 hours and get medication and fluid through an intravenous drip. I got her back yesterday, and apart from being very hungry and a little tired, she seems fine. I don’t know what caused her to get so sick, but I sure hope that we won’t experience it again.

She’s now eating small amounts of kibble (we usually feed raw, but she’ll eat RC intestinal for a while, doctors orders) many times a day, and she’s not supposed to eat to quickly. Perfect opportunity for small training sessions. We’ve worked on her stays, sitting rear crosses, putting on her collar (she hates it) and other calm but very useful behaviors. I’m also planning to start working seriously on her scent discrimination, it’s perfect when it’s cold, dark and snowy outdoors.

Happy New Year!

We spent New Years Eve at home with the dogs. It was relatively calm here and the dogs did not seem to notice the fireworks at all. A new year means reflecting over the past year and what we have accomplished. The biggest thing that happened to us was of course moving in to our very own house. We’ve lived here for five months now and we couldn’t be happier here, it’s just perfect! We’ve had some really cold days (-20 C) and quite a lot of snow. Perfect for celebrating christmas with our families, not so perfect for dog training. We mostly do sessions indoors (and that isn’t really a problem, there are so many things to work on that doesn’t require a lot of space). We’re also fortunate to have a riding facility really close by, and we get to use it pretty much when ever we like. I have most of my agility equipment there and we do all of our classes and seminars there this winter. I’m hoping to do some herding there this weekend too, that’ll be an interesting experience.

My cute girls waiting for their turn

Looking back at this year, it has been a fairly good one. Shejpa did her first year of trialing (well, she did two trials in 2008) and got into the highest level, earned her Agility Trial Championship and qualified for swedish nationals next year. We’re still far from where I’d like to be, and we have a lot of work to do, but I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made. Shejpa and I also did a seminar with Greg Derrett in December, and I’m happy to see the amazing progress she’s made since last year (I don’t think Greg yelled “spaniel” at all this year…). Shejpa has also gone hunting with Thomas a few times and she’s really the best when it gets tough (she’s not the most obedient spaniel, but no one

Missy and I did not accomplish as much as I had hoped for, but she got her Obedience Trial Championship and did some good trials. Squid is now 15 months old and we haven’t started to trial yet. She’s taking a long time to mature and she’s been a new kind of challenge for me. I’m very thankful for everything that she’s teaching me and I feel like we’re really making good progress now! Her tugging is a lot better, she’s starting to be able to concentrate for longer periods of time and she’s got speed and passion where she needs it. She’s making progress in herding and I hope to be able to start trialing in 2010.

Squid herding on Christmas Eve

My new years resolution is to become a better blogger and writer. I’m going to update this blog more often and share videos and pictures with you all. I’m also going to write a book about shaping. (Look – no “I’ll try” or “I’ll start writing”… it took me a few tries to get that right). Right now, I’m working on an update on my article on retrieving (in Swedish). I will translate it and put it in this blog along with videos.

Training Tip #2 – “Go see” and Classical Conditioning

Ok, I know it’s been a month since I posted the first training tip. I’ve been away teaching and going to trials with Shejpa (who is now in level 3 in both standard and jumpers and did some really nice runs!). We’re moving to our new home on Monday, so it might take a while before I’ll be able to post #3, but I will translate the second one for you tonight (and hey, comments are very reinforcing).

Todays tip is about adding a cue to the behavior of greeting (people and/or other dogs). I was just reminded of another benefit to this. Someone had put piles of wood in our yard and when I took Squid out to potty in the dark, she was a bit scared and raised her hackles and growled at the new sight. I tried telling her to “go see” and she instantly changed her attitude. She started to wag her tail and ran up to sniff the piles of wood before we continued on our walk. This is a cool example of the power of classical conditioning. I don’t usually make a big deal out of the puppy barking at new things and I don’t know if I think it’s a good idea to always make sure they go up to sniff and get over it. I think the best response often is to just act normal and walk on, but in this case it was interesting to watch her response to a well known cue in a new setting.

If your dog is uncomfortable around new people, this cue might help you break the ice in some situations. But you can’t use it too often in situations where the dog is insecure, as it then won’t be associated with good feelings, but rather the opposite. Add the cue in situations where the dog is happy and relaxed, like every time he is reunited with a family member or close friend. When the conditioning is strong, you can try it out in a more neutral situation, but be very careful not to scare the dog during the greeting.

The “goo see” cue (as any cue) has both a classical and an operant part. The classical conitioning is all about the emotions evoked by the cue. The operant part has to do with the dog learning that he may greet other people when, and only when, the cue has been given. You will want to be even more careful with getting your timing right when adding the cue (see Training Tip #1), if the classical conditioning is important to you. Make sure that your cue is presented before the dog goes to greet. If you give the cue as the dog is greeting or is running towards the person to say hi, the classical conditioning will be weaker than if you present the cue first.

I therefore hold the puppy in her collar or with my hands around her chest when I want to add the cue. I give the cue when I see that the puppy really wants to goo see and let go of the dog half a second later. I repeat this for every greeting for a couple of weeks, before I start using the cue as a reward for good behavior (looking at me, walking on a loose leash or staying in position, for example).

Obedience Seminars with Maria Hagström

Maria Hagström is a Swedish dog trainer who is extremely successful. She has been at the top in obedience and working trials for a long time and her young working kelpie Ylle was qualified for national championships in both tracking and obedience last year, only 2 years old. He also made the national obedience team. Maria’s training is a lot like ours, all shaping and reward based. We just love training with her as it always leaves us with both motivation and inspiration. This time, we had invited her to do four days of seminars at a riding facility close to where we live. I worked Missy on Thursday and Friday and Squid on Saturday and Sunday.

With Missy, I got a lot of new ideas for her training. Obedience with her has been frustrating this winter, as I have felt that she always is too high and that there are some details that I just can’t fix. Maria made me realize that the details that we are struggling with has to do with her level of arousal. When I got Missy to calm down, the details started to look much better automaticly! I have been struggling with position and straight sits in heeling, with stimulus control on stand, sit and down from heel and on keeping back feet completly still when working on distance control. I now realize that all of those things will be much easier to fi if we get Missys level of arousal down.

Maria talks a lot about active and passive reinforcement. With a dog like Missy, you would like to keep the dog as passive as possible while rewarding, and also doing a lot of “its yer choice” while rewarding. While heeling with Missy, I should mostly reward her sitting at my side, and reward her when she can focus on me while I move the treat around. It helped a lot and I can’t believe that I have had trouble with getting her arousal right when training heeling. When her arousal was right, her sits where perfectly straight.

Maria also puts lots of emphasis on preparing your dog for trials. Getting all the exercises perfect is not enough. You should do lots of training on longer sequences (2 exercises or more) without rewards (of course, dog gets rewarded at the end of the sequence). For most dogs, this is the biggest difference between training and trialing. They get lots of rewards while training, and then none when in a trial. Doing lots of longer sequences will prepare the dog for trials and also give you valuable information on what needs to be worked on. You often get problems while doing longer sequences that you don’t get when you are just training and rewarding a lot. You also get to see if your dog is doing well on the first try. If you don’t do this in training, you will have to make those misstakes in a trial, wich is both expensive for you and demotivating for the dog. It is also important to do this kind of training in new environments and in situations that look like a trial.

On Friday morning, we got to choose a sequence to do with our dogs to try this kind of training out. With Missy, i choose a short heeling pattern, a recall with stand and down and then my plan was to reward her for heeling with me to the next exercise (it’s very important to have good transitions between the exercises). I put a lot of thought into the warm up and Missy was really good outside the riding facility, calm and focused. When we got in the trial setting, she was higher, but not as bad as the day before. We need to work more on it before it works in a trial, I think, but we’re definatly on the right track!

Keeping Missy lower on the arousal curve is something that I really need to think about in agility as well. She is so high while doing agility that I don’t feel that we’re making progress while training. It is mostly my fault, since I have a tendency to just run, run, run with her. Never calming it down. I have taken the new knowledge about Missy’s obedience into our agility training. We have a really long way to go in agility, but I think it is the best way in the end. Missy has great knowledge of jumping, weaving, contacts and handling, but when she is too aroused, she will just throw herself over bars, pop out at the third weave pole, fail to collect and get out of balance on the dogwalk. This is a video from our first training session with lower arousal as our primary goal. I have edited out the most boring parts, there was a lot more sit stays and “its yer choice” in it:

Shejpa in class II!

We’ve had a great weekend! Saturday was agility trial with Shejpa and our chance to get those last Q:s and move up to class II. She did so well! She was clean and fast in both jumpers and standard and won both classes. She was 8 seconds faster than the second fastest dog in standard. I was worried about her contacts, as we haven’t been able to train more than a couple of times during December and January. Our training field is all snow and ice and we haven’t had many sessions in the riding facility. We did a team run that didn’t go very well, but all contacts were perfect. Then, in standard, her dogwalk was really bad, but she still hit the yellow. I’m not very concerned about that, I knew that it was a gamble to run her in standard with almost no training for two months and I know that she’ll be fine as soon as we can start training again. I’m very happy with Shejpa and I can’t wait until the next trial, in two weeks, where she will be running in class II in both standard and jumpers!

Jumpers run:

Standard run:

Sunday was obedience trial at our club and we were helping out. Two of our students were competing in obedience for the first time. They both have Kleiner Münsterländers, a german birddog (HPR) breed. There were about 40 dogs in the trial and one of our students actually won the whole class! In front of all te border collies and working breeds. Both of them did really well and they are now qualified for the next class. I was so proud watching the happy, focused and confident dogs!

Herding and flying

We’ve had a fun filled week. Last Friday, we drove to friends in Sweden for a weekend of herding. Squid got to meet the sheep for the first time and did really well. We were all very pleased with the way she was starting out. She was happy, confident, focused and balanced the sheep to me. She showed a lot of the traits that I have been looking for in a puppy. I can’t wait ’til next time we’ll be herding (in about a month), but I need to start jogging, because I got so exhausted from running backwards and sideways trying to help the dog and not get smashed by the sheep. Good thing that all that walking backwards in obedience is helping in other areas as well… Here is a video of Squids first day with the sheep, 16 weeks old:

Tuesday was Squids first time flying in her crate. The trip to Bergen is a short one, about 50 minutes. I was at the airport about an hour early (when has that ever happened before?) to give her time to get used to it and maybe get a bit tired. She was truly a perfect puppy at the airport. Walking nicely on leash while I was pushing the heavy cart, sleeping by my feet when I sat with my computer, wagging her tail to all the people that came by. We played some crate games and trained some tricks and then I left her in her crate with two raw turkey necks. I don’t even think she knew I went. When we picked her up in Bergen, she was relaxed and happy, I think she had a good time.

We were teaching in Bergen for two days. Squid turned 4 months on Wednesday. She is a great puppy to bring to classes, she stays in her open crate while other dogs are working and I’m teaching, she does demos and concentrates really well, she sleeps by my feet when I do lectures. I’m really pleased with her. I finally got the video camera back (along with my husband and three dogs) and I did some recording in Bergen and I’ll try to do some more at home. It’s time for a new video of Squid and the things we have shaped.

Squid at 16 weeks

Why I love my puppy (but hate winter)

It’s really a depressing time of year. I did wish for the snow to go away, and I guess I got what I wished for. It’s windy, dark, rainy and the road to our house is covered in ice with water on top. I have had to park the car by the postbox since it’s impossible to drive up to the house right now. I have caught a cold and is coughing constantly. Thomas is in Bergen again, working on his master thesis. Indoor training yesterday was cancelled, I guess because many of my friends have exams today. Indoor training tonight might be hard to get to, because of the icy road to the riding facility (a friend of mine got stuck on that road on Tuesday and it took us a good halv hour to get out of there). Maybe I can start training on my field again now that the snow is gone, but I have a feeling that it’s too wet and slippery.

Ok, enough of the whining. We’re soon heading for spring! Puppy Squid is now 13 weeks old and huge! She weighed 8,4 kg yesterday. She is very coordinated and has full control over her body, so it doesn’t concern me. I don’t think she’ll be a big border collie, she’s just a big puppy and has always been (like the rest of her litter), but her parents are normal size border collies. She is so far all that I wanted from a puppy. I wanted a social puppy with lots of confidence and no fears. She is all that. She loves people, especially children. She is not afraid of anything and can relax anywhere. I also wanted a puppy with a lot of brain. I want a dog with an open mind who can be thoughtful in drive and never loose her head. Her parents had the qualities I was looking for and I think she got them too.

It’s extremely easy to change her behavior. If she shows a behavior that I don’t like, it’s usually enough with a few reinforcements for good behavior and then she never looks back. She started to show interest in other dogs running agility or tugging at an early age. She would kick and scream when she saw even the slowest dog run around an agility course. I started rewarding calm behavior right away and it took me just a few repetitions to have a completely different puppy. She can stay in an open crate and be totally relaxed as other dogs run and play.

She loves food and she loves to tug and her openness to change makes it really easy to train her, she will just accept any reward from me without thinking twice about it. She loves to climb things, I had to rescue her from the seesaw already on the first day. I have some balance toys that she just loves to climb on her own and she will climb the peanut ball and use it as a resting place 😀 We had a jumping seminar here this weekend and she got to do her first puppy grid, wich she did nicely.

Time to go out for a walk with the dogs. I was waiting for daylight to come, but I don’t think it will get much brighter than this on a rainy and windy day like this.

Puppy Class

We started a new puppy class the day I got Squid home. The first night was just lecturing, last week was the first working night and tonight was our second time working the puppies. It’s so much fun to do a puppy class with your own puppy and I was surprised at how much has happened since last time. We worked on:

Crate Games
All puppies were willingly going back into their crates when released. Squid likes the crate games, but when I started to shut the door when she tried to come out, she would not respond to her release any more. I decided to do some counter conditoning and would shut the door many times and drops treats in the crate every time I did it. I also released her more often and rewarded her more for coming out. I want to be able to use closing the door as a consequence for breaking criteria, but I don’t want her to be worried or scared. I don’t see it much, but I think she is a pretty soft puppy. She also stopped getting her toy on cue when I stood on the leash once when she tried to steal the toy from the ground. I need to build lots of value for closing crate door, collar grabs etc. She stayed in an open crate for most of puppy class when she wasn’t working and I was happy to see that she could control her self when the other puppies did restrained recalls.

It’s Your Choice
All puppies got started on It’s Your Choice today. We want the puppies to stay away from an open hand with treats in it and be still until the treat is delivered to the puppy’s mouth. Most dogs were working on it in a sit and we added the release word. Squid is pretty good at this and I could throw toys around, run away from her, stand still with my back to her and praise her wildly without her breaking her sit. We’re doing a jumping seminar in three weeks and I want her to be able to have skills to do jump grids independently. So we worked on sitting still while I walk away, throw the toy and stand by the toy (with some lateral distance) and then release her when she focuses forward. She was a very good girl!

All the puppies did some restrained recalls last week and we did the same thing today, but added some challenges to the puppies that seemed ready for it. Squid was great. She did two restrained recalls and then I gave her “go see” cue and let her socialize with another puppy. I walked away and called her after a while. She turned to me immediatly and ran as fast as she could to me. We did it twice and she was perfect. We ended with a restrained recall where I added a front cross before tugging with her.

Collar Grabs
We did collar grabs with all the puppies to make sure that no puppy will avoid the hands reaching for their collar, weather it has to do with a time out or an emergency. A good game for soft Squid and I need to do it more!

Loose Leash Walking
We ended todays puppy class by introducing loose leash walking. This is something that I have been working on with Squid since the first time she got a leash attatched to her collar and it really helps compared to the puppies that have gotten lots of reinforcement for pulling on the lead already. There’s another benefit in starting right away with a small puppy. They usually don’t run ahead of you for the first couple of weeks and you can build loads of value for staying at your side. I need to do more short walks on lead with Squid, she is mostly off leash and I can see that that makes her more likely to run ahead of me when she is on leash. I’ll incorporate small sessions of LLW whenever I take her out and let her run loose.

Another running contacts video

We did another session with the running contacts this afternoon. Our goal was to get her to run from the top of the higher plank. It required Thomas to hold both Shejpa and the plank high up in the air, but we managed. She was a bit confused at first when I started her from the middle of the plank and seemed to have some trouble with where to place her feet. It’s hard with the not perfect ones. I don’t want to reward them, but maybe I should. I get inconsistent with them. When we started her from the top of the plank, she was more confident and picked up speed. She jumped when I was ahead of her once and when Nina switched from kibble to hot dogs. We have a lot of proofing to do! I think some of the last ones on the video are very nice. This is only the third session with the plank on an angle.