Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hi all,

This week has been as hot as an oven, so I haven't taken Peepers out to the barn. He's been a little unhappy about it, and has even taken to putting himself in his carrier and then calling to me to get my attention. Poor guy. I think I will have to take him out there even if we bake really soon.

Sparky has gotten in enough feathers now so she can fly about 30 feet. She doesn't gain any altitude, and landings are a bear for her, but she has started using her wings again to take her as far as they will, then walking the rest of the way. So now I am constantly on the lookout for little miss greenjeans on the floor. It's awesome to see her start to get her mojo back, and I can't wait til she's cruising around the house like she used to :).

Dempsey has been a rockstar with his flyball training. At practice this past Sunday, only one thing of note happened - we lined him up for recalls against a little dog named Kix. Kix is small, but mighty, and is of the philosophy "say it loud, say it proud". For the first recall, Dempsey was watching Kix and missed the jumps. We changed it up for the next few recalls, letting Dempsey go first, and he got his head together and recalled like he's supposed to. He needs lots of practice with this kind of distraction, just to make it clear to him that he can do his job even when other things are going on.

I borrowed one of the team boxes, and Dempsey has gotten to practice his box turn at home. He's been totally awesome for the super short sessions we have had. When he gets tired, he hits the bar he's supposed to be jumping over, so I am making sure that I don't give him the tug for those efforts and also am trying to be more aware of how tired and hot Dempsey is getting. I think he's going to get it really soon.

I also tested Dempsey in the field behind the house to see if he would drop the ball when presented with the tug during a retrieve. In flyball, the dogs have to carry the ball over the line, so some dogs need to be taught to carry the ball to you in order to get the tug. Dempsey's inclination was to drop the ball just as he got to the tug, so for now I shouldn't have to do anything to teach him about bringing me the ball. Yeah!

There's a cool front coming through in the next few days, so I am hoping to get outside with everyone and train a bunch of stuff. I'll be crossing my fingers...

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Blue screen of Death

Hi all,

My poor computer died, and is now on it's way to Kentucky to either be revived or buried :). One way or another, it will be about 3 weeks before I have regular computer access. My plan is to keep training, and keep filming (as long as I am not in PJ's LOL), and to post about the sessions as I can. I will also be inserting where film should go in those posts (it shoud look like this: ). When I get my computer back, or the replacement one, I will go back through the posts and add the videos that I did for those sessions. So for those of you following, you will be able to go back and watch when you have time.

Happy training, everyone, and I hope to chat with you all soon!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Little bit of training with Peepers and some thoughts

Hi all,

This morning I got up almost reasonably early and took Peepers out to the barn before it got too hot. Since I had gotten up a little later than I wanted to, and it was already getting warm, I went out in my pj's and without combing my hair. Hence, there is no video. Vain, I know, but there are limits here :).

Peepers was pretty excited about going out there, and this time I didn't take Sparky. It was going to be just him and me, then Sidney the lab pushed his way out the gate, so he went into the barn with us. We started how we had ended the last session, with the pole in the same spot in relation to the perches. I worked on moving the perches so that the three things would be in a straight line, and Peepers would have to fly in a half circle to go from perch to perch. There was a time in this session where Peepers started to have trouble. He was going from the shorter perch to the taller one, flying on my right side. He was supposed to fly on the right side of the pole, but he instead flew on the left side of the pole and on my right (for those who are having trouble picturing this, that put him between me and the pole). We worked on this for what was probably 3-4 reps, then suddenly it clicked for him, and Peepers started flying from perch to perch on the correct side. He could hardly wait to take his next turn. I'd give him his pine nut, and he'd turn right around and almost immediately fly again. I had a hard time keeping up with him, making sure I cued the next flight before he took off. All in all, it was a really good session, and I kind of regret not taping it.

As I think about how to go about training Peepers in these skills, I try to draw off of the experiences I have had teaching the dogs similar skills for agility. If I wanted to teach the dogs to go out around a pole, it would be a simple matter of having a pole and slowly moving away from it while asking for the dog to go around it. With Peepers, it is different. I have to set up the perches, which limits some of the choices Peepers makes, and also changes the exercise in some ways. I think that the perches almost distract from the behavior I am trying to teach, a "go around". There also could potentially be a difference in how Peepers thinks about his movement in relation to me. I think that these 2 things may be affecting how quickly Peepers is learning this skill. I am really not sure how to change the exercise, so my plan right now is to keep going as I am (at least one of us has done it this way before), and think about how I might make things easier for Peepers.

As far as Dempsey goes, I have placed a jump in front of a stair for him to jump onto and off, trying to replicate a swimmer's turn on a box until I can get a shell built for him. I am not sure that this is close enough, so I am trying to get the shell built sooner rather than later to be sure we are practicing exactly what we want to. He's doing very well on the stair, and I am looking forward to seeing how he does this weekend at practice.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Some good days :)

Hi all,

I haven't had time to post about my training adventures in a few days, but I did manage to video them and post them to youtube. We've done some fun stuff, and since I can't remember all of it, I have been reviewing the tapes so I can post what I remember from the sessions.

On Friday, I was able to take Peepers and Sparky out to the barn. Peepers is working on flying around a pole, and Sparky is getting used to being out in the barn. The basic flow of the session is that I work with Peepers while Sparky hangs out on my shoulder. When Peepers needs a short break, I would take Sparky to one of the perches and give her a big almond. She would hang out on the perch and I would go back to Peepers and do little tricks while he caught his breath. When she was done, I would take her off the perch and go back to working on the whole pole thing with Peepers.

There isn't a ton in the first video. It takes a few minutes for Peepers to get into the swing of things, but even during that time, he was interested in the idea of training, he just needed to get into the swing of things. He did some nice reps of flying around the pole. One thing I think I need to note on this is that when Peepers is unsure of something, he tends to not want to take off from the perch he is on. He is much more confident flying from my hand. So, when he shows interest, but is hesitant, I ask him to step up and then cue "go" from there. I don't launch him in this situation, I keep my hand steady and let him make the choice to go. I don't know why this makes a difference for him, but since it does, I use it to break the ice, so to speak. You'll see it in the middle of this video - Peepers gets a little hesitant to leave the taller perch, so I ask him to step up and then send from there.

In the second half of the session, I moved the pole and perches around a bit. There is also a spot at about 0:54, where I cue Peepers to go, and he goes, but flies on my side of the pole. This was an incorrect behavior, but I had clicked in anticipation of him going around correctly (my bad!), so I gave him a pine nut, but then picked him right back up and put him back on the lower perch and asked for the correct behavior. I believe that if I click, the animal should get the reinforcer. If I hadn't clicked, I would have just simply picked Peepers up and put him back on the lower perch and asked again. This was the only thing in this half that seemed noteworthy to me.

The battery was running out, so I planned on ending the session, and turned off the camera. We hung out in the barn for a while more, while Peepers explored the bars more than he ever has before. Sparky of course hung out on my shoulder and watched :). I did notice that this session was pretty hard on Peepers physically - he was very hot and tired by the end of it.

On Sunday, I took Bungee and Dempsey to another team's flyball practice. I've known some of these members for 10 years or so from seeing them around flyball and agility, so I knew that we should get along pretty well. Dempsey did really well, we did recalls from the box with a dog in the other lane, and he was very solid about it, just looked down his own lane and ran his heart out. The only time he slowed down a little was when I was out of breath and didn't call him or speak at all (note to self - get in shape!!). He also did box work, which this team does a little differently. I have been shaping the turn, and had progressed to getting 4 feet on the box (inconsistently). Pam suggested that I start to use a jump before the box, so we introduced that to Dempsey. Kyle taped it for me, so I am able to share; and You can see at about the 5 minute marker in the second video where Dempsey is jumping the jump against the box and he hits the box with his left rear foot. Pam immediately moved the jump to help make Dempsey's job more clear - all 4 feet over the jump without touching it. Within one or two reps, the jump was back against the box and Dempsey did a wonderful turn. I learned a bunch, some of which I had forgotten. 1.) Get in Shape!!! 2.) Motivation is key, and your energy level will be reflected in the dog 3.) Sometimes you gotta talk (or in this sport, holler) at your dog 4.) get in shape!!!

I think I know where we're going with the box turn, so I plan on working on getting Dempsey to offer to go over a short agility jump while I am futher back from it this week. We also don't want him to touch the bar, so I will be careful to reinforce when he doesn't knock the bar. I am also planning to build another faux-box to work on this skill with a slanted surface behind it. Hopefully by next week we will be able to show some real progress on this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dempsey grabs the spotlight

Hey all,

This past weekend I went to a flyball practice for the first time since mid-May. Back then, Dempsey was having trouble getting 3 feet on the box for his turns, and was doing recalls in side by side lanes. There is some video of Dempsey learning his box turn on youtube, and if you're interested, you can look back in the blog for the links. I expected Dempsey to be able to do his recalls, and I thought he may get 3 feet on the box again if I were lucky.

Dempsey did as expected in his recalls, and he hated being touched by the guy holding him. Nothing new there, Besides giving Dempsey a goodie every time the man touched him, I think he will start looking forward to lining up because that means the start of the race. But that requires some experience, so we'll just keep plugging along with that concept.

A little later, Dempsey came back out for his box work. I decided to use a tug to reinforce good offered turns, because I think he needs to be a little more "up" to get better turns. I didn't use it earlier because I wanted him to offer the behavior, and in order to do that, Dempsey needs to be thinking. In any case, once he decided the man standing on the box wasn't going to touch him, Dempsey got right back to offering 3 feet on the box. Within a couple of reps, he offered a beautiful 4 foot turn! Seriously, it was gorgeous! Every once in a while something will just click for Dempsey, and it is such a beautiful thing. I am planning to film next time to hopefully get some record of our progress and how we are doing.

Bungee needs a mention here - he was his normal stellar self, and just did his job like he knows how to do. He even demo'd the steps we took when I shaped his box turn with a clicker for a couple of people who were interested. He really is a neat little dog :).

I also took Peepers out to the barn this morning. It's time to start filming these sessions, as he is getting more and more confident, and I am now ready to start working on introducing a pole for him to fly around. In this session, Peepers was flying when cued pretty well, even though the barn was creaking a lot from the wind. He was offering his bottoms up behavior a TON, I guess he likes that trick, and I will be trying to use it as a reinforcer for other behaviors. He also did something that was good, but not right, that I have to think about. I cued him to fly to a perch, and on the way, for the first time, he decided to land on my arm. I like the idea that if he feels the need to abort a mission, that he lands on me, but I want to encourage him to go where cued. So I let him land, then took him to the perch I had cued him to. When he stepped down onto it, I gave him a pine nut. I think this gives him a pretty good balance to the problem - he can land on me if he wants, but the big reinforcers happen when he gets to where I ask him to go.

I got kind of excited after this morning's training (Peepers just did so well), and was home this afternoon, so I decided to do another session out there, and I thought it would be a good idea to bring Sparky out and introduce her to the barn also. I also filmed it, because I started 2 new things: Sparky's intro to the barn, and Peepers learning to fly around a pole.

The session didn't go quite as planned. Peepers seemed to be a little upset, I suspect because Sparky was there and on my shoulder. He offered exactly zero bottoms ups, lol, and did I think one on cue. Sparky wasn't interested in being anywhere but my shoulder, so what work I did with Peepers was done with her right there. I was able to introduce the pole to Peepers, and we did get to the point where he has to think about the pole while he flew from one perch to the other, but he really didn't have to change his path at all. He did of course notice the pole, and it affected him in that he wasn't able/willing to leave one perch for the other, so I just asked him to fly from my hand, as you can see from the video. One or 2 times I felt like I had to kind of dump him off my hand - I feel like I can no longer allow him to sit on my hand and regurgitate, so when he starts to do that, I rotate my hand around to force a different behavior. I suspect this isn't the best idea, and I am going to try and avoid the situation entirely as best I can in the future.

There's also some other kind of interesting things to note. The parrots are left loose in the house overnight, and in the morning, Peepers has the option of eating to his heart's content, with foraging everywhere and all sorts of goodies. When I took him out to the barn in the morning, the poops he did out there had almost nothing in them. It could be that he had already digested the stuff he ate in the morning, or he could be a light eater. I have no idea, but for those who are interested in the whole food management thing, it's worth noting.

I also have been concerned about all the pine nuts and almonds Peepers has been getting from all the training. Today after both sessions, I cleaned up the bird room, and there was a pile of regurgitated pine nuts in a pile on the floor. I think they were from the second session, just because the young dogs would have cleaned them up if they had had access to them, but I don't know for sure. So, I am going to keep an eye on this and see if he's stuffing himself to the point where he can't keep it all down on a regular basis. I don't know what I would do about it, but hey, I at least want to know if it's happening :).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No Training, just an update

Hey everyone, I haven't trained any critters in a week (!), but I thought it would be a good idea to update everyone so that you don't think we're up and disappeared.

Sidney the lab had surgery this week of a hematoma on his ear. Since Monday I have had to keep a very close eye on him to make sure he didn't remove his bandage and/or shake his head. That has kept me occupied, if not outright busy tackling him before he can do damage to himself. The bandage came off today, so I am hoping that the would will dry out a bit and stop bothering him so much. In the meantime, Sid and I are hanging out together :).

Since I haven't trained the birds, I have added another foraging area for them, and also made getting the goodies a little more difficult. In one of my earlier posts there is a picture of Peepers on a tree stand, and there are dixie cups hanging all around. I had been putting goodies in each of the cups. Now I am only putting treats in some of the cups (about 50% or so), and I am crumpling the cups up, making him work just a little harder to get at them. It seems to have made him kind of cranky - I guess coming off welfare sucks lol.

Sparky hasn't been too interested in messing with the cups, but she has also had to work a little harder for her food. She has a dish in her cage that has food, toys and shredded paper. She rifles through all of it to get the treats in there. I also have added a basket to the side of her cage which will also have stuff to get in it.

It is definitely time to get back to training, but I am so glad to have something that I can give these guys to do. Boredom sucks!