Monday, 24 August 2015

Gatsby's Stay: In Which Melon Learns That Tiring The Dog Out Has Unexpected Consequences

As you can imagine, having Gatsby here has kept me pretty busy. Since she's so demanding (she whines when I leave the room and bashes doors when left alone, and paws at me when I'm working), I've been giving her good long walks and socialisation sessions, as I have truly learnt the truth of

a tired dog is a good dog.
(With thanks to the wise Hu-Dad of The Thundering Herd!)
I've discovered Gatsby really will be tired and rest from the early evening onwards if I take her for a walk. She runs and chases to her heart's content in my backyard, but it's the walks (and exposure to the big, unfamiliar and ever-changing world, I'd imagine) that tire her out. Unfortunately... waking up early when she does, taking long walks every day while constantly correcting her leash manners and monitoring her reactions to people, dogs and everything else in our world... tires me out too. So instead of sitting down to my blog in the evenings, I find myself dropping off about the time she does... so more from me a bit later!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Book Review: The Power of Positive Dog Training

Funny how life works, isn't it? I was on my way to Gatsby's for my next training session, wondering what I was going to work on. I was starting to feel a tiny bit lost and wished the books I'd ordered online would arrive sooner. I missed the train, and, sighing, ducked into the library to wait until the next one. It was there I found Pat Miller's The Power of Positive Dog Training, and as it turned out, this book was much more relevant and informative to me than the three more specific ones, and well worth the lost training time that day.

Turns out I read the 1st edition
What I like about The Power of Positive Dog Training is that Miller explains the thinking behind the two most fundamental things about clicker training: why train with positive methods, and the role of the clicker.

I have always trained positive since day 1 of my short and recent experience with dog training, because this seems to be the dominant theory right now (as opposed to the dominance theory - ha ha), at least from what I'm exposed to. I guess it seemed to fit in line with my moral views, but to be honest I hadn't thought very hard about it, I just started with what I'm told is effective, and hadn't come across any issues so far. But Miller gives the most reasonable explanation for why train positive that I've heard so far: both positive and aversive training work, but positive training is lower risk and builds a stronger and happier relationship with your dog.

I think the line that has stuck with me the most from this book is
The difference is that an occasional poorly-timed or too-generous treat does no harm, whereas a single poorly-timed or overly strong correction can do serious, even permanent damage to the relationship between you and your dog. p12, Chapter 2: Train With Your Brain, Not Pain
The other thing this book explains really well is the role of the clicker. Not just that it works, or when to use it, but how and why it works. I would like to share the explanation given, because I know many of you train with the clicker, and know how to use it -- but do you know exactly why you use it? If you are recommending its use to others, can you articulate what exactly it adds compared to training with rewards but without the clicker?
I couldn't -- until I read Miller's explanation:
Let's pretend we are dolphin trainers and that we want to train our dolphin to jump out of the water on cue. We can wait by the side of the pool until he jumps on his own accord, then quickly call him over to the side of the pool and feed him a fish. But wait -- he now thinks he got the fish for swimming over to the side of the pool! How do we tell him the fish is his reward for the jump? We could try tossing the fish to him in midair, but that wouldn't be a very accurate or precise way to communicate, especially if our aim isn't very good! p46, Chapter 6: A New Leash on Life
She goes on to explain that we condition the dolphin to a reward marker by feeding a fish every time we blow a whistle, and then blow the whistle at the moment the dolphin does what you are asking for.
The reward marker ... allows you to communicate instantly and clearly with your dog when he does something right. p46, Chapter 6: A New Leash on Life
I personally think that you can train positively and effectively without the clicker (or equivalent marker), but using it is very helpful. Firstly to help communicate the exact behaviour you are reinforcing, as Miller explains, but even more, because it gives the trainer confidence. Learning to use it properly gave me confidence. Both dogs I clicker trained went from hearing and ignoring what was just another sound in the environment to giving me their full attention when I click it. Having the dog respond to it, so intensely, so instantly, reminds me that I can get my canine friend's attention, that I can make changes with a visible and obvious impact. The response to the clicker proves this, so having it in my hand gives me the confidence to keep going, even when I can't imagine how things could change.

I was able to take this photo because I clicker-trained Katie the boisterous Lab to Sit-Stay

(I also find using the clicker keeps me focused. I pay attention to exactly what behaviours my dog is offering/beginning to offer and when, and stay clear on the order of the process -- behaviour-marker-reward. (Not using food as a bribe!))

Has anyone here used the clicker with other animals or even human beings? (I've heard the clicker has been used with good effect in individuals with autism.) I'd love to hear your experience!

Now that I've finished reading it, I have passed this book on to K. Something I genuinely enjoy is having a project, doing thorough research, and finding an appropriate way to achieve it. People don't always share my enthusiasm for implementing my recommended solutions. (Really, Melon? By 'read' all of this, you mean 'skim over', right?) Luckily, K says she is actually looking forward to reading this book, and that it will even give her mind a break from her busy work schedule. I just hope it will provide her with some of the understanding it gave me about what we are doing.

The serendipity of finding this book, which so far has resonated with me more than any other dog training book, serves as a reminder to keep my chin up -- that helpful or interesting things can be found at the most unlikely of times.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Gatsby is here!

Since I’ve been MIA recently, you’ve probably guessed that the time has come… Gatsby is here! As in, living with me, 24/7, for the next few weeks. So far it’s pretty much been a holiday for her, and I’m hoping to keep it this way.

I’ll be busy for sure, but I’ll be posting a few book reviews, and a couple short updates on our adventures.

She LOVES my yard – it's her paradise. She doesn't have lawn at home, so she especially loves grass, and for a dog so people-focused, I don’t think she would've coped at all without the very enticing yard full of smells and sounds. I’ve totally let the yard go, so it’s got plenty of fun stuff for her.

She runs around, leaping and chasing invisible objects, digging holes and chewing on sticks.

She even has her own sanctioned digging spot, guarded diligently by Mr Froggy.

Sometimes she even finds treasure there!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Trial Run: Who Tells It Like It Is, Melon or Gatsby?

Very observant readers will be able to guess why I’ve been too busy to post this week, but before we get into that chapter of the story I should tell you first about Gatsby’s Trial Run!

I’ll cut to the chase: It went really, really, well. Better, in fact, that any of us – K and I for sure – could ever have dreamed. (The lovely Kirsten of peacefuldog can testify that I was expecting absolute drama, and has a desperate email plea for advice to prove it!)

Gatsby stayed calm. Because of this, we humans could relax and enjoy the experience.

This photo was taken from inside the house. Velcro dog outside? Check. Human inside? Check. Pigs flying? Check.

I admit I kind of still can't believe Gatsby spent a whole 24 hours away from home without any meltdowns from either four- or two- leggers, but upon reflection I can credit its success to 2 factors:
  1. Purely by chance, K’s brother dropped Gatsby off. This meant that Gatsby didn’t have to endure K – her one, her only, the light of her life, blah blah blah bark bark bark whine whine –  bringing her somewhere and abandoning her to the oh so cold, empty world beyond and we didn’t have to endure the inevitable whining and carry-on! So she was calm (by Gatsby's standards, anyway) to begin with.

  2. I was super organised and arranged all the details before she arrived. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, but to have a record here of things that can help me in future, and maybe help you guys too!
Now, which things are we talking about? Well, let's do an analysis.

  • She was calm.
Getting my white fur as brown as possible is hard work!
My explanation: I took her out walking and playing for a good 3 hours as soon as she arrived before I deemed it safe to return home.

Gatsby's explanation: Walk! Park! Mud! Yawn.

  •  Gatsby didn’t have one accident in my house.
My explanation: I treated her like a puppy and took her out after every meal, as soon as we got up, right before bed, etc.

Gatsby’s explanation: Doing business in the house like an uncivilised human? Gross!

(K: And my house, where you live, and pee on the floor all the time, is what – the street?)

  • She didn’t destroy a single unsanctioned item.
My explanation: I did some thorough de-cluttering to our totally un-dog-proof house to keep everything destroyable out of reach.

Gatsby’s explanation: Destroy things? But I like it here.

The gate stops Gatsby from disappearing into the clutter, never to be seen again

  • Gatsby didn’t end up anywhere she wasn’t supposed to be.
My explanation: I bought second-hand baby gates and installed them to block off the kitchen and two carpeted areas.

Gatsby: Ha. I didn’t even try to walk through them! After all… why would I move away from my water, bed, and most of all... my people? ♥

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Training Day 5: In Which All Is Quiet, If Somewhat Confusing, on the Home Front

It was raining outside again. While I didn't mind that Gatsby resembled a swamp monster when she emerged from mud puddles, I figured it was probably easier not to mind if you didn't live within smelling distance, and so refrained from taking her to the park, despite how fulfilling it had been last time.

Ah, well. I was sure there'd be some human-canine bonding activity we could do in the house. K had gone out to an appointment, so I settled down to do some work in the study.

I couldn't concentrate, though, because there was some rattling and howling going on just across the hallway.

Well, then. Training Day 5: House Manners.

I sat down cross-legged on the other side of the gate, and clicked and treated Gatsby when she finally quietened down and stopped rattling the gate. She bounced up again, rattled the gate, and since there was no response, put four back on the floor. Click. 

Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

Soon I was rewarding her for Downs through the gate.

After a while I always wonder if she's getting it or not. Is she back-chaining already (purposely jumping up and back down to 'earn' a treat)? Does she have any idea I'm telling her something at all? I have no idea, so I take a break.

I go in and out for a bit, having lunch, returning to the desk, but later, working in the study with K's brother, I see Gatsby lying quietly by the gate. Not in a Down, just lounging there quietly. Looks good to me.

Does she usually stay there quietly? I asked K's brother.
He replied that she did, but when K got home later and joined us in the study she commented on Gatsby's calm behaviour.

She never just hangs out there quietly, K said.
Really? Your brother said she did.
Well, never when I'm in here, anyway, she clarified.
It sure is hard to make sense of humans too, sometimes.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll have a lot more to report when I can work with her consistently on her 'holiday' -- which is coming up sooner I'd expected!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Training Day 4: In Which We Discover Why Smelling Like A Swamp Means Everything is Awesome

So I just have to share this photo first:

This photo sums up Training Day 4: Gatsby got filthy, we had an awesome time, and I have absolutely no regrets!

The long version? Well, let me see.

Our plan for this session had been for me to take Gatsby to the park alone. This was because K had discovered that after her brother started taking Gatsby to the park by himself, Gatsby actually started noticing and even getting excited when he arrived home. So I was going to do the same. But since I didn't yet remember where the park was, Gatsby and I ended up walking directly behind K and her friend to the park.

When we arrived, the fenced dog area was completely empty! Perfect. I took Gatsby inside and K and her friend went to a tree at the edge of the park to meditate.

I bet you can guess what happened next, right?

What I could see was K and her friend at some distance settled down on a mat opposite each other, talking.

What Gatsby could see was that she was on this side of the fence, and K was on the other side, walking away!
She always reminds me of Lightning of The OP Pack in this photo

What I could hear was Gatsby barking and whining.

What I could feel was her pulling at the leash, wanting to go to K.

I admit at this point I felt frustrated again.*

Great. What can I do if my friend is so disorganised that we can't stick to the original plan of my taking her out of the boring house to the fun park by myself? Instead, all Gatsby thinks is that K's taken her out and abandoned her!

Fortunately - in a manner of speaking - Gatsby's barking got loud enough that K heard her, looked up, saw Gatsby still on the end of the leash, and called, Has she been there the whole time?

I replied in the affirmative.
Should we go out of sight?
I replied, fervently, in the affirmative.
To her credit, K did so immediately, calling, Sorry! I should have realised!

Once K was out of eyeline Gatsby listened to me so I could unleash her, take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand.

There was a bit of wondering what her human was up to while she was here...

... but to my joy it soon turned into running and jumping...

And, of course, taking advantage of all the delights the dog park has to offer.

I had relaxed my eagle-eye watch a little on the usually fearful Gatsby as she was so calm, either ignoring or showing only polite interest in the other dogs that arrived. Not to mention the toddler whose mum had cleverly placed into the double gate area, allowing kiddo to enjoy her outdoor playpen while her elderly little shih tzu mix sniffed and wandered the grass. Gatsby usually barks ferociously at toddlers, but this time was completely unfazed, standing quietly on her side of the fence. So when I turned around from chatting with the mum (who we'd met last time when we discovered the park) to find Gatsby enjoying the giant mud puddle leftover from a weekend of rain, I laughed and let her be.

She only showed her teeth once, late in the afternoon when playfully cornered by three or four dogs led by a staffy puppy (think: boisterous and all puppy), which reminded me that I'd been there for a couple hours and Gatsby must be tired! So I called her to me (she came), asked her for a few tricks so I could reward her, leashed her up and took her home.

I was so pleased and proud of Gatsby, and told her so as we walked back. She walked back totally differently from before - with the leash loose, not charging ahead. I don't know if it was because she was tired rather than rearing to get to the park, or whether it was because K wasn't there for her to constantly chase to make sure she didn't leave her.

But I was made even happier by the fact that I managed to towel and brush her down with her completely relaxed and enjoying it - I guess I finally get why people say if your pet enjoys being brushed it can be a bonding experience.

I guess it also helps if your dog can turn white again with one brush

And like I told K, today I really did like Gatsby - when she could enjoy life and was willing to learn, she was easy to like. So even though I'm told Gatsby still smells like a swamp, I don't care one little bit.

* (After the frustrating session on Day 2, I had written a long and thorough email entitled 'Time to get hard-arse!' to K explaining that I liked her but not necessarily her dog, because Gatsby's bad behaviour got in the way of my getting to know the good parts of her personality. And that if K wanted others to appreciate her dog and her company while with her heart dog, she would have to work with me and most importantly, Gatsby! K thought the email was insightful and agreed.)