Thursday, June 30, 2011

HA! (Don't) Lose, MOVE!

Linda & Jessica developed this mnemonic to help us remember the 6 cues we use in Agility:

HA! (Don't) Lose, MOVE!

HA - Hands & Arms
LO - Location
S - Shoulders
E -Eyes
MO - Motion
VE - Verbal

Opposite Day

We had a great class last night. It was possibly our last indoor class on the sand since the new turf surface is to be installed sometime in the next 2 weeks. No more orange shoes and sand in the car! There was a new dog, Lily, a Clumber Spaniel, in class which gave Henry and Gilda a bit of a challenge but overall, everyone did well.

Gilda had a great class. She was attentive and focused and did everything I asked of her. We started class with some shadow handling exercises including some Front Crosses on the Flat (FCOTF) and Rear Crosses on the Flat (RCOTF). I can see now why these have always seemed so confusing! There were 4 of us in class and it looked like we were doing completely different things when in fact, we were all still doing RCOTFs:

Gilda & I were practicing a RCOTF with a 180 degree turn cued with an outside hand. (See video example here courtesy of Jessica & Style)
Marilyn & Henry were working on a 'zigzag' RCOTF which has alternating 90 degree turns. (See example here courtesy of
Lina & Jax were working on cueing a 180 degree turn with the inside hand.
{Funny Face on the A-Frame}

Next we worked on a simple Pinwheel sequence with our dogs on our left: Table, Jump, A-Frame (RC), Tunnel. On the first attempt, I was ahead of Gilda at the bottom of the A-Frame and attempted to use my right had to cue her into the tunnel. In the process, I ended up behind the Tunnel entrance instead of moving toward the Tunnel exit to pick up Gilda. On the second attempt, as Gilda was descending the A-Frame, Linda said, "Slow Down"  and like magic, I was able to step behind Gilda as she came off of the A-Frame while cueing Tunnel with my left hand and moving across to the Tunnel exit! It was a light bulb moment for sure. It was so simple and yet I'm still not to the stage of handling where I can think to make such adjustments without some coaching.
The funny part is, this is the first time I've ever heard Linda instruct me to slow down. It's usually "Don't wait!" or "Go! Go!"

Later, we were were doing a sequence in which the dogs were on our left. At the bottom of the A-Frame, we were to perform a FCOTF to send our dog to the Table off of our right. When Gilda hit the Table, Linda said, "Good. But you don't need to raise your outside arm so high".  This cracked me up because usually it's "Arm up!". Thus, I dubbed it 'Opposite Day'.

It's always great to leave class feeling like you've improved on something and that's the way I felt last night. I'm pretty sure Gilda felt the same way...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gilda Goes to Dog Camp!

Gilda and I are home from Dog Camp and what an experience it was! Before I agreed to be camp nurse, I read the following description and thought, "I can do this!":

In March ’07 we began renovating the cabins, tearing out old kitchens and installing brand new cabinets and appliances. We purchased all new bedding, with high profile cushy mattresses and high thread count linens. The cabins were scrubbed, and stairs were built to lofts to accommodate campers with dogs and suitcases. We continued to refer to these as “rustic cabins,” but they’re really not that rustic — now we refer to them as cottages.
When I arrived at the facility however, I found myself in a state of shock! At my current age, I no longer enjoy "rustic". I do not have wash-n-go hair, I can deal without A/C for no longer than 2 minutes per day, I suffer from a very real case of arachnophobia and I utterly adore sanitation especially in kitchens and bathrooms . 
The A/C it turned out, was a window unit in the "loft" area that we wouldn't really be using since there would be 10 humans and 11 dogs packed into our 800 sq. foot cabin! 
It was 90+ degrees, sunny, and 100% humidity when we arrived. My painstakingly straightened hair immediately reverted to puff and frizz, I was hot and sweaty and there wasn't a thing I could do but be thankful that there were no spiders to
be seen and just go with the flow!  I already knew that the dogs wouldn't care what my hair looks like and I soon discovered that teenagers don't either!
With all of that being said, it is the perfect place for the Ohio 4H Teen Dog Experience to have their camp. Where else will you find a place accommodating enough to allow 14 teens to bring their dogs for 4 days with full use of the incredible Agility building? The campers love it there and are very respectful, cleaning up after their dogs, staying in designated areas with their partners and helping with cleaning duties in the cabins. (When they weren't busy pulling pranks on each other at least).

{Rustic "Red" Cabin}
{Rival "Blue" Cabin}

Once my initial panic wore off, the campers arrived, and the weather cooled considerably. I felt much better about my new rustic experience! While the campers got organized, I took Gilda up the mountain-of-a-hill to the agility building. She was apprehensive with new surroundings and equipment but was willing to work a little.  We used our multiple daily hikes up and down the hill to work on loose-leash walking.

Later, when the campers and their dogs went to the building, I took Gilda up to watch. All was well until the Teeter (which was all the way at the other end of the huge building) came into play at which point, she shot into the back most corner of a kennel and stayed there.  I was eventually able to convince her to relax out in the open while the campers and their dogs worked.
{Out of the crate!}

It was truly amazing to watch the teen campers and their dogs. Each and every camper had fantastic handling skills and all of the dogs were happy to work . It was really remarkable to see. 
For Agility classes, the campers were put into groups based on their skill levels and they rotated through stations performing exercises based on level and need.
Gilda and I did our best to stay out of the way so we missed most of the activities. The campers had lots of active class time with their dogs covering Agility, Obedience, Tracking, Rally O, and flyball. Other classes included grooming, husbandry, tugging, judging, first aid and 4H book work. They also had lots of craft activities including making a pivot box, a TAGulator, a treat dispenser, and a tug toy. After the last dinner, the campers had a hilarious blindfolded cake decorating activity which was designed to demonstrate the importance of clear and concise communication.

{Agility Building}

Gilda and I spent our free time trudging up the hill (I should say I was trudging, she was prancing along as she always does) to do short agility sessions. Most of the Jumps there were Winged Jumps and it took some coaxing to get her to jump. The Pause Table was covered in a stiff carpet and it took sheer determination to get Gilda to get on it let alone perform a Down! She was eager and willing to do the tunnels, Dogwalk and A-Frame (as long as no one else was in the building!) so we used those as our short, successful sequences.

{Lower hill}
Sometimes we'd climb the hill only to walk straight through the building doing shadow handling skills to the outdoor field. Once outside, I'd throw the ball a few times and then let her explore the outdoor fenced agility area. Other times we'd play fetch in the empty agility building with the ball bouncing off of the equipment including the terrifying Teeter in an effort to get her to interact with the equipment. It seemed to work as she happily chased the ball and brought it back.

{Gilda waits for the 'Fetch' cue}

Once we went to the building after the campers had been working on Flyball exercises and the equipment was set up with a Curved Tunnel at one end and 4 low Jumps in a straight line. I was able to get Gilda to enthusiastically take the Tunnel, 4 Jumps, turn around, and take 4 Jumps to the Tunnel. She seemed to particularly like this set up. 

We also spent time using Peanut Butter for some much needed recall work. I would randomly call Gilda to me for her favorite reward. Just when I thought we were getting back to great recalls, she would start to come, sniff, turn around, and we were right back to where we started!

Dog Camp was a great experience for both of us and I've made some invaluable dog friend connections! The directors: Abigail, Karin, Kristen, and Megan (all the way from WI!) are amazing young women who spend months on lesson plans, raising donations, activity and meal planning, and lots of shopping, followed by days of leading, teaching, cooking, and cleaning to make this all happen. They are all bright, upbeat, positive people that speak often of their love for "their campers"! I am amazed that they devote so much time and energy to such a great cause.  Also brilliant is their Teen Counselor program which I believe will prepare some campers to transition to the counselor role. How genius is that?!

Not only did the directors have a fabulous gift bag for me when we got there, but the campers also presented me with a bag full of dog toys and games! Thank you from Gilda & I to the campers:

Bree (Scotty, Sheltie)
Cassy (Chiquita, Rat Terrier)
Gabby (Ozzy, Australian Shepherd)
Hannah (Wesley, Black Lab)
Helen (Maddie, Border Collie)
Josie (Shadow, Weimaraner)
Katie (Chase, Border Collie)
Laura (Cleopatra, German Shepherd)
Megan (Jake, Australian Shepherd)
Melissa (Rogan, Australian Shepherd)
Myranda (Duke, Lab Mix)
Rachel O. (Bandit, Golden Retriever)
Rachel P. (Java, Australian Shepherd)
Rachelle (Sander, Border Collie Mix)

{Rachel P. & Java Bean}
{Director Megan (seated)
Rachelle & Sander}

{Helen & Maddie}

{Josie & Shadow}

{Laura & Cleopatra}

{Katie & Chase}

{Hannah & Wesley}

{Melissa & Rogan}
{Rachel O. & Bandit}

{Myranda & Duke}

{Megan & Jake (center)}

{Gabby & Ozzy}

{Chiquita without Cassy!}

{Bree & Scotty (center)}

{Cassy (Chiquita's handler) Left}

Saturday, June 18, 2011

4 Exciting New Things...

In an effort to catch up on my blogging, I am combining posts today by sharing 4 brand-spanking new events and 1 update all rolled into one blog!

1. New Agility Class!
On June 8th, Gilda and I started our new agility session at Agility Underground. We now have a new class time and new classmates: Marilyn and her Rat Terrier, Henry and Linda and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Jax. I am thrilled with this new class! We seem to be at similar levels of experience and ability and the class feels calm and most of all fun. I notice a huge decrease in Gilda's stress level which is a blessing on many levels.

There was a time when it was very difficult to pay attention or even listen to the instructor because I was so busy trying to keep Gilda engaged, quiet, calm, etc when it wasn't her turn. It was truly exhausting and frustrating. Now, her "episodes" are minimal and it is exhilarating!

We are working on foundation skills and we are also using fun games (both for the dogs and handlers) to apply the foundation skills. In the first class, Linda had one of us choose any 2 obstacles and perform them with our dog. At the end of the second obstacle, that person would put their dog in a sit/stay or a down/stay. The next person would do the same 2 obstacles followed by 2 obstacles of their choosing and then sit or down their dog nearby while the 3rd person took a turn using the first 4 obstacles and 2 more. Next, we all took turns running the 6 obstacle course.

This was an awesome way to keep things light and happy while working on important skills. I am excited about this class and sorry that we'll miss next week.

2. New Jessica Sessions!
We have made arrangements to meet with Jessica for a few private lessons to focus on some problem areas. As I have told many people, Jessica will have Gilda weaving 12 closed poles with around-the-clock entries in 10 minutes! I haven't told Gilda about these yet but trust me, she will be thrilled!

3. Dog Camp!
Thanks to Linda's AgilityUnderground List Serve, Gilda and I have been "hired" as Camp Nurse and Camp Nurse Dog for the Ohio 4H Teen Dog Experience. We will spend 4 days at Houston's Country Dream Agility Facility with 14 campers (ages 13-18) and their dogs. Karin, the camp director has this to say:

The kids participate in a variety of activities throughout the day, including agility, rally obedience, tracking, showmanship, obedience, flyball, health activities, training games and lots more. You would be more then welcome to watch any of the sessions and use the building at any time that we are not using it.  There are also fields and a small pond at camp that you would be more than welcome to explore. Camp is at the Houston's Country Dream Resort near Marietta Ohio (  Half of our kids are returning campers, the other half are new kids. They do not all necessarily come from a positive training background, but all of our curriculum is based on clicker training and TAGteach. Our focus is on teaching science based training in a supportive environment, and of course making dog training fun. Kristen, Abigail and I all have our TAGteach Level one certification, Megan has her primary certification. Kristen is also a KPA certified training partner.
I am so excited about this adventure as kids and dogs are two of my favorite things in the world! I'm sure I'll have lots to blog about by the end of camp too and maybe even some blog-worthy photos and video...

4. A New Dog!
Lastly, we have decided to add a new dog to our family. Actually, we (okay, I) decided that this would be a good idea months ago. After an exhaustive search and the help of many of my dog friends, we have decided to adopt this little guy:

{Gilda's New Brother, Pico}

I definitely did not set out to adopt a chihuahua and it almost didn't happen at all. I filled out an adoption application because I was interested in a 12 lb. cattle dog mix named 'Allie'. Jane, the rescue owner, called me to say that 'Allie' had been adopted but she felt that 'Skippy' would be a good match for us. When she told me he was a chihuahua, I told her I was not interested. She was very persistent about the fact that he was a really cool dog so I reluctantly agreed to a meeting.  I kept telling myself "you don't want a chihuahua. Just cancel so you don't waste anyone's time." But I never made the call. Wednesday arrived and we went to Agility Class. I was excited about meeting a new dog but kept thinking, "I've got to make the meeting quick." After waiting 15 minutes, I figured that Skippy wasn't coming and we got into the car. I was just ready to pull out of the parking lot when Jane's car appeared. I backed in to a parking spot to check the little guy out. He was instantly likeable and even cuter than his photo. And that is how I ended up being super excited about adopting a chihuahua!!
 I call this guy the un-chihuahua. At maybe 8 pounds, he neither shivers nor yaps. He has long legs and a long snout. I think his eyes are even less buggy than Gilda's! His ears however, are awesomely huge and very chihuahua.  Most importantly, he is well-adjusted and was excited to meet me and Gilda.
We had a 45 minute meet & greet in the agility parking lot and you would have thought this little guy was in his own living room he was so comfortable! He and Gilda spent time playing together and just hanging together. He doesn't pull on the leash and he seems as easygoing as Gilda when it comes to other dogs. He doesn't seem hyper but he does jump straight up into the air at times! Hmm... could we turn that into a bar jump?
We will bring him home (and consider names) when we return from Dog Camp and I can't wait to see how it all goes.

5. Doggie Brigade Update!
We attended the Annual Kids Are Number 1 Run at Akron Children's on June 5th. The weather was beautiful and Gilda did really well. There were 350 dogs registered for the 1 mile Paws For a Cause race so the turnout was better than ever. It is really wild to see all the dogs and people taking off down the streets of Akron.
Gilda continues to do very well with her hospital visits. In stark contrast to her guarding of our front door, at the hospital she is a happy, tail-wagging girl who is calm and sweet with the kids she visits.
On Tuesday evening, we will hopefully have our (rescheduled) group photo taken with all or most of the 95 dogs and handlers that make up the Doggie Brigade! (of course they are calling for more rain so we'll see!)

So many exciting things coming up! I've got a lot to do in a little time!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Discussion Group 2: Motivation

On Wednesday June 1, 2011, sixteen members of Agility Underground met at Coppertop Restaurant in Valley City, OH for our second Interim Week Discussion  Group. (Information on our first meeting "Recognizing Stress in Dogs" can be found here)

 It was so nice to sit out on the patio and enjoy a nice dinner with great dog friends. Sue and Jill did a great job making arrangements and facilitating the meeting. *clicks* for them!

[Editors Note: I have let a significant amount of time elapse between this meeting and this blog so please feel free to email me or post a comment with any additions and/or corrections!]

1. The act of giving somebody (including dogs) a reason or incentive to do something. (Webster)
2. A feeling of enthusiasm,  interest, or commitment that makes someone (in this case, your dog) want to do something. (Webster)
3. A reason for doing something or behaving in a particular way. (Webster)

{Pam had a great definition straight from her freshman textbook but I didn't make a note of it! I believe it was something like: Motivation is whatever makes you do something and keep on doing it ?! }
{Gilda is highly motivated by other dogs}

1. Food. From lower value kibble to higher value chicken, peanut butter, canned dog food, baby food, tuna fudge etc.
2. Toys. Especially tugging to create drive
3. Words. "Ready" is a commonly used word which dogs can learn to associate with something fun to follow.


1. Their focus is on you
2. Outside distractions (weather, other dogs, people, noise, activity) have little to no effect on the dog's behavior.
3. Signs of interest: ears perked, tail wagging, alert eyes, forward stance.


1. Using the Premack Principle: a solid start line stay (lower value activity) earns a chance to perform agility (higher value activity)
2. Use high-value rewards for successful short sequences to build motivation.
3. Train with different scenarios: slowly decrease distance from other dogs and people, increase duration of training session, add new distractions during training.

For more information, reference Susan Garrett's Say Yes Dog Training Website
Information on our first meeting "Recognizing Stress in Dogs" can be found here

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Extinguishing Behaviors Article

Our Agility Instructors at Agility Underground Have started an email 'column' with various applicable thoughts, ideas, articles, etc. The latest is written by Dr. Randall and deals with stopping unwanted behaviors in our dogs using Positive Reinforcement methods rather than punishment. 

I have been working diligently on this with Gilda and her front window vigilance. During down times, Gilda sits at one of the two french doors and just watches. When she sees a person walking, a squirrel, a chipmunk, the neighbor's dog, a car turning around in the driveway... etc., she jumps to attention (scaring the bejeezus out of me if I'm on the computer), and runs as fast as she can back and forth barking the whole time (and shredding the wood floors...)

What seems like an eternity ago, I started using tons of positive reinforcement, telling her "good girl" anytime she wasn't displaying such obnoxiousness. She was still jumping up and running but was barking much less.  Just when I think I'm making progress, she has another burst of insanity (which usually occurs when I'm on the phone or someone is here visiting).

In my quest to have a good dog, I will march on. Linda's article humanizes this concept and makes clear the long-term benefits of using positive reinforcement both with our dogs and with ourselves!

Extinguishing Behaviors
by Linda Randall, DVM
 I have been thinking lately about stopping unwanted behaviors in my dogs. In behavior parlance, this is called “extinguishing” a behavior. To do this, one stops reinforcing the undesirable behavior, and, eventually, the behavior decreases until it is gone because there is no reward for performing it. There is also something called an “extinction burst”. Just when you think the behavior is gone, it all of a sudden comes back strongly, before it goes away again. When this occurs, many trainers mistake it for a strengthening of the unwanted activity and get very frustrated. Ignore it and it will go away.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? It is much easier said than done, of course. 
A recent example in my personal life goes as follows:
The shelf clock in my bedroom stopped working. Of course, the battery was dead. I kept checking the time and it always said 2:36. At first I was incredulous, as it was night, I had just woken up and wanted to know how much longer until I had to get up. Wow, lots of time. Back to sleep. I woke up again, still 2:36. ‘How can that be?’ my sleepy brain asked. Then I realized the problem. I checked my cell phone, got the real time, made a mental note to change the clock battery and went back to sleep again.
Fast forward 2 weeks. I still haven’t gotten around to putting in a new battery. It is perpetually 2:36 in Linda’s world. Not an unpleasant time, mind you, but always the same.  I have no other clock in that area of the house.  Every morning I wake up and look over at this clock. Every night I check it. I check it when I walk into the room. I am always a little irritated, pull my phone out to get the correct time, or I just guess and go on. I am often wrong when I guess, and am late or early for appointments.  It is not reinforcing.
More days go by, and I have decreased by about 50% the number of times I look at this stupid clock. But the behavior has not extinguished. I am human, I can reason. I know with every mitochondria in my body that this clock is going to say 2.36, that I am then going to ask myself when I am going to change the battery, that I have to find my cell phone and get the time. It is annoying and I hate it. But I do nothing about it.
If I do stop looking at the clock and it is just like a picture on the shelf and nothing more, and someone walks in and says: ‘Linda, your clock has stopped working.’  Do you think I would start looking at it more frequently again? The answer is yes, because that is what happened last week.
And what is going to happen once I replace the battery? How fast will I start telling time by that clock as soon as it is reinforcing me with the correct time? Instantly, and without looking back. Within moments I won’t even remember it was not working for over a month. The fact this clock has rewarded me with the correct time twice every 24 hours for over a decade will overcome any ‘extinguished’ behavior of one month’s duration. 
This is why extinguished behaviors are never really and truly gone. The longer they were a positive experience, the harder they are to tamp down, and almost impossible to bury forever. Sometimes it only takes reinforcing it once, mistakenly or not, for it to come back as strong as it was before you tried to extinguish it. It is very hard for us to accept this when we are training our dogs. I mean, really…One time I make a mistake and reward my dog for leaving his start line and I am back at square one after 6 months of success? Yes, it is true. Fortunately, it should be easier to work through the extinction phases the second (or third, or fourth) time. 

The dog training lessons are these:
  1. From the time you acquire a dog, only reinforce what you want. Exactly what you want.
  2. Remember that often we don’t know what is reinforcing a dog, but if you see an unwanted behavior develop just from a dog’s “life lessons” either find out what is so reinforcing (it could be environmental, another pet, just the deed itself, or who knows what!) and try to eliminate that. If that is impossible, as it often is, train a different behavior that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior (for instance, the dog can’t jump on your guest if it has a go-to-mat behavior across the room), or reinforce decreasing frequency or strength of the unwanted behavior (example: dog is incessantly barking out the window, takes a breath, you reinforce the breath. Slowly 100 barks per minute become 90 then 70, then 4 , etc. This takes a long time. It works.)
  3. If you work on extinguishing a behavior (running off during training), be sure to chart it or you may not recognize a decrease in the unwanted behavior and mistakenly think you are getting nowhere because it hasn’t stopped completely.
  4. Remember it is never gone forever. You will always have to be vigilant, especially in times of stress for the dog.
 Think of examples in your own life, like my clock, and you will have more patience with your dog when you are trying to eliminate a trait you don’t want. 
(A discussion for another time, another Tips and Trends, but a note worth making here: trainers who work with aversive training methods, instead of positive training, will tell you it only takes one time for a strong aversive to stop an unwanted behavior. In life, if an animal tackles a porcupine, gets quills in the face, is in pain and misery and almost dies from sepsis, it will most likely never ever approach a porcupine again. Great life lesson. But, how many of us are willing to take an aversive that far? Bob Bailey gives some examples of when he has used punishment to eliminate an unwanted behavior. It is not for the squeamish to see. His point is that if you use an aversive to stop something, it better be something you must stop the animal from doing, and the aversive has to be close to life threateningly  harsh because it has to work the first time you do it. You have to be willing to be hard, hard-hearted, and hard-handed for that moment. If you are just as “hard” as you feel you can be because you feel bad for the dog, or you feel inhumane when you do it (and you may be, for that chunk of time), you end up merely nagging and being mean, with nothing to show for it. If you can’t be a porcupine, don’t use aversives. Think about it.)