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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Best Kept Secret in Dog Training - Criteria!

I was in the process of writing a blog post questioning WHY dog handlers don't give the concept of predefined Criteria the attention it deserves...when it dawned on me. Have they ever been told of the need for planned Criteria?

So for the heck of it, I did a little surface research to see if Criteria is mentioned in common training definitions.

First, I looked up the general term 'Training' and found two relevant, accurate and interchangeable definitions for human & dog training. The definitions are 1) "acquiring of skill: the process of teaching or learning a skill or job." 2) training is an organized activity aimed at imparting information and/or instructions to improve the recipient's performance or to help him or her attain a required level of knowledge or skill.

While there were some great key words used, the word Criteria was no where to be found.

Next I looked up the term Dog Training. Dog training is defined as - a standardized program of training for dogs calculated to give owners mastery of their dogs at all times. 

OK, I can't help the sarcasm and getting a little off topic here, but REALLY?!?! That was the best definition Websters & Wikipedia and other referral sources could come up with? I'll have to devote yet another blog post to this topic called 'What IS Dog Training' . But back to the current topic...again, no mention of the word Criteria.

While the word Criteria was not specifically used in any of these definitions, words like...

  • Process - a series of actions directed toward a specific aim 
  • Instruction - a spoken or written statement of what must be done
  • Skill - skill is the learned capacity to carry out pre-determined results often with the minimum outlay of timeenergy, or both
  • Knowledge - all the information, facts, truths, and principles learned throughout time
  • Calculate - to consider a situation carefully and decide what is likely to happen
....were used. So the question all dog trainers should be asking themselves is "How do I come up with a process? How do I give instruction? How do I teach a skill? How do I share the knowledge of what I want my dog to do? And how can I calculate what my dog is likely to do?"

All of the above (Process, Instruction, Skill, etc.) uses Criteria as a means to obtain the wanted outcome. Think about it, Criteria is the necessary base to train specific behaviors. Need further proof, how about all of the pros use it (agility, baseball, football, etc.) so why shouldn't you?

Give Criteria some thought as it deserves attention when it comes to dog training. As a little tidbit, something to remember is that in dog training, Criteria is a bunch of small little steps that ultimately make up a specific end-behavior. 

I'll be writing more about criteria, but in the meantime, ask yourself "Can you define what the expectations are for your dog in a factual and logical manner? Do you have a clear and concise blue print to work or train by?."

If you answered 'No' then you need to add Criteria to your tool box. Not sure how? Well stay tuned for more on Criteria!

*On-line references used: Websters, Wikipedia & Encarta

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Leap into a New Dog Sport - DockDogs

Zulu Doing DockDogs (click on this link to see a video)

Yesterday, Dan and I took a leap (literally) and tried a sport called DockDogs.

DockDogs has several events to compete in so Dan and I decided to focus on one called Big Air. The idea was simple - see how far your dog can jump into a pool of water. DockDogs provides the 40’ long dock so the dogs can get a running start, as well as the 40’+ pool for a soft and fun landing.

We provided a toy for our dogs to run, chase and dive after as well as permission and encouragement to be as wild and excited as they could get. Zulu, our Border Collie and Burton, our Chocolate Lab were the two dogs who joined us since they are our water and toy maniacs!

Last week we had planned to head on over to our friend’s house to borrow their dock and lake to acquaint our dogs with the notion of diving, but unfortunately life threw us a curve ball when Spot passed away. So instead we went to Plan B which in our household is commonly called “The Wing-It” Plan.

Dan had to work so I headed over to the Spring Puyallup Fair on my own with both dogs, all of the supplies (including a camcorder) and a huge smile on my face. I was excited! After a review of the rules (no pushing or assisting dogs into the water, no live or formally living ‘toys’ can be used, etc.) it was my time up on deck for Zulu’s introduction.

The DockDogs folks as well as several of the competitors were awesome and walked me through the basics. Zulu was excited to see the water, but diving off of a ramp 2’ above can be a daunting experience, so to start him off, we simply dropped the toy into the water. After quite a bit of squealing, barking and enticement from us, he finally jumped in and proceeded to do a few victory laps around the pool after retrieving his toy. With all of the pre-jump activity, I figured he deserved the opportunity to wave at his new-found fans! Burton’s reaction was exactly the same and soon, both dogs were dragging me up the steps to the pool deck wanting more.

Dan arrived in time to see Burton’s second training run and after seeing his success, he was a proud Dad! After handing Burton off, Dan jumped in line as he was anxious to give this new sport a try for himself. Keith and Beth had arrived earlier with Jazzy so we had a chance to turn this new adventure into a family event and the men bonded while waiting for their dock time.

In summary, our dogs loved it, we loved it and now Dan’s asking when we can go back for more. I have to say that all of the encouragement from our more experienced DockDog friends across the country really helped to make the event for us. They answered our questions, put us at ease (after all, we were the new kids on the block) and celebrated our accomplishments and enthusiasm at the end of the day.

This was another great example of how going out on a limb (or in this case taking a leap) to jump into a whole new world is worth the risk. Heck, I could have ended up face first in a pool of water (and thanks to Burton, I almost did) but instead I came away with some great video of my dog having a blast, memories of my husband thriving on the fun he was having with his dog and a chance to hang out and start a new sport with my in-laws.

As for the dogs, the experience and their reactions are almost indescribable and unbelievable! Let’s just say they squealed, barked, were wide-eyed, howled, cried and pulled us around all in the name of excitement, anticipation, pleasure and happiness.

So, if your dog likes water you should give DockDogs a try!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Courses - Columbia, SC Sunday

Today I judged JWW and have attached the course.

The majority of the course was designed by Barry Hall with a few minor changes by me as well as some additional spacing.

Surprisingly, a few dogs missed the #2 tunnel entry and went behind the tunnel. When this happened, handlers took off immediately after the dog committed to the first jump and simply assumed the dogs would find the tunnel entrance.

Most folks did a cross around #5 and I would have to say it was pretty evenly split between a front and a rear cross.

In anticipation of the cross around the weave poles, some handlers did a front cross on the take off side of #9. Unfortunately, this generally didn't work so well and sent dogs directly from #9 over the #12 jump. On the other hand, handlers who did a front cross on the landing side of #9 had a better chance of making the weave pole entry.

The biggest challenge on the course was the #14 jump. Handlers needed to push out and support that jump or dogs were tempted to by-pass this obstacle and head straight for #15.

The last line of obstacles was fast and had both dog and handlers running to reach the finish line. Again, there were a lot of great runs and it was a blast to watch some of these teams RUN this course.

Of course my personal favorite is Mark Ogle with his Dalmatians. Mark does an amazing job and all of his dogs are terrific.

Thanks again to a wonderful club!

Courses - Columbia, SC Saturday

Saturday had me judging Standard and Excellent FAST.

The Standard course is a take-off of the course from the original judge with a few modifications to accommodate my short legs. Here's a break down on how the course ran:

Obstacles 1-3 were an easy no-brainer for these handlers. However, things weren't as smooth from the a-frame into the weaves. Several factors came into play. First, those with a running contact who were hell bent on getting in front of their dog at the bottom of the a-frame generally succeeded in increasing their dog's speed to the off-course #8 jump. Most handlers were able to call their dog's off of the incorrect jump, but were then left with an odd angle over the #4 jump which had the dog heading to the #10 jump and not directly to the weaves.

Obstacles #5 - 8 were straight forward with the dog on the handlers' right hand side. Quite a few dogs went up the a-frame rather than pull in toward the #9 jump. In most cases, the handler assumed the dog would come in toward them and it was too late once they realized their dog was heading straight for the a-frame.

The line from #10 through to the teeter was beautiful and ran very smooth.

The area that caused most handlers a degree of difficulty was the #15 jump. The majority of handlers had their dog on their left side and planned to rear cross this jump. However since the dog was coming off of the table, handlers were ahead of their dog and their timing was off for a rear cross. Quite a few of the handlers turned in to their dog early and caused their dog to turn left prior to taking the jump which incurred a refusal.

The remainder of the course went smooth and while the #18 jump caught a few teams off guard, most finished this course beautifully.

Next was the Excellent FAST course.

This was a fun little FAST course that had dogs moving around the entire ring and potentially accumulating a lot of points.

Better yet, the send bonus was very do-able for this group and they did a lovely job.

Great job everyone!

Courses - Columbia, SC Friday Course

Before I get into a discussion about courses, check out the GREAT ribbons the AKC is handing out regarding Mixed-Breed dogs  participating in AKC April Agility trials!
To help celebrate the inclusion of Mixed Breeds, today we took a 'Freshman' photo with the Mixed Breed newcomers participating in the trial. It was really, really neat and I'll post it as soon as I receive a copy of the picture. I know I was personally very, very excited to be asked to participate! 

On a side note, the Mixed Breeds that ran at this trial were so excited to be participating. Not just the handlers, but the dog as well. A beagle/shepherd mix literally SMILED around the entire course - it was great to see.

On to a discussion about courses....

This weekend I'm in Columbia, South Carolina. I wasn't originally scheduled to be here, but the club needed a replacement judge at the last minute and so I was asked to fill in. That means that the courses I'm judging are a combination between the original judge's design and are slightly modified to incorporate a bit of the wide-open spaces I prefer on a course. 

For the heck of it, I've posted the course we ran (shown above) and the original course (the 2nd course posted). In reviewing the two courses, I realized that I have a specific course style preference and couldn't help but wonder if perhaps I've gotten myself in a bit of a rut on my design thinking.

Original course:

Regardless of the course style, it ran well and I was especially impressed with the weave pole entries. I was originally concerned when I looked at this on paper, but these guys made it look effortless. Nice job folks!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chicken Camp, Final Day (4)

Today was my final day in Chicken Camp I - Discrimination Training. As I've mentioned a million times now, Camp has been so much fun!

Attached is a picture of "Spinner" my careful/methodical and exceptionally nice working chicken. She didn't initially offer up a lot of actions and didn't go for luring so she taught me patience and the art of precision.

In this picture she's waiting for me to take her out of her cage as she was eager to work once she started learning and had a job to do.

In the end, I trained this chicken to peck on a the middle of a target and to spin 360 degrees. It was a great experience for both of us.

My next chicken was Discriminator (the white chicken pictured).

Discriminator was my discriminating chicken. We used shapes and the hexagon was the 'hot target' or the one we clicked/rewarded for when she pecked on it. Using reward and extinction methods, we were able to get Discriminator discriminating up to 4 different shapes (a hexagon, a triangle, a cross and a square) with over an 80% accuracy rate. It was very, very cool.

Once Discriminator was at the 80% marker, we started playing all kinds of fun games like pointing at different shapes (hot or cold targets), removing the hexagon completely, and of course randomly moving the shapes all of the table, including between the chicken's legs. Yeap, we were having a BLAST!

It's good to be home and I'm lucky enough to be able to attend the first two days of the Cueing Chicken Camp II on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week before I fly out to South Carolina where I'll be stepping in for another judging who isn't able to make it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chicken Camp, Day 3

I've been asked "What have you learned at Chicken Camp?"

First, let me tell you a bit about those attending Camp. They're from all walks of life. Some have dogs, some have cats (and successfully train them), some use Camp mechanics in TAG Teaching for humans, some simply want to be in the know on this science and for some, this is how they chose to spend their vacation.

For me, I've been using the methods and mechanics of Clicker Training for well over a decade on dogs. While the animal training concepts aren't new, I'm self taught and came to work on precision, criteria choices, chaining and more. With that said, I'm certainly not bored at camp and love the fact that I have two different types of chicken personalities, not to mention that Terry Ryan is an amazing trainer and teacher.

Another added benefit is that we get to coach our partners and be coached by them. It is always good to have an observer and it is a luxury I don't have at home.

Looking back on my notes, here were the points that mean the most to me in clicker training/shaping behaviors/luring/discrimination training, etc. from the Chicken Camp I - Discrimination.

  • All animals/humans come with habits. We teach a new habit with association.
  • Dog Training is a combination of Science, Art & Mechanical Skills.
  • You can teach the difference between Discrimination vs. Generalization.
  • Law of Effect. If the effect is good, it increases the intensity of repetition.
  • Rewards drive behavior!
  • Rewarding early is better than rewarding late.
  • Late rewards are more powerful than missing a click/reward.
  • Be sure to define your criteria before a training session.
  • Different types: Capture (wait for action) vs. Shaping (small baby steps).
  • Three Steps to Success: Timing, Criteria, Rate of Reinforcement.
  • Do shorter sessions (1 minute for example, set a timer).
  • Increase Rapid Reinforcement when starting a behavior.
  • Type of Reinforcement - Rapid Reinforcement, Variable Reinforcement, Differential Reinforcement.
  • Click for action, feed for position.
  • Discrimination Training - Hot target, feed. Cold target, don't feed.
  • Extinction - remove hot target and wait for extinction burst and then reintroduce the hot target.
  • Once a behavior is at 80%, then increase the criteria.
  • Premack Principle - behaviors become reinforcers.
Tomorrow is our last day of camp and we'll be moving forward with discrimination exercises. So far one chicken has moved on to spinning in a circle (the brown chicken) and the other has moved on to discrimination exercises.

The discrimination exercises started with us rewarding our chicken for clicking on a circular target. Next we switched to a hexagon (same color as circle) and rewarded all pecks on the hexagon, which will be the rewarded shape. Next we introduced a triangle. If the chicken pecked on the triangle, we did not click and treat. To encourage extinction, if the chicken pecked on the triangle (the cold target), we took the hexagon off of the table (the hot target) and let them peck away on the triangle without reward. It was common to get an extinction burst and afterward we reintroduced the hexagon and rewarded when the chicken clicked on it.

I should also mention that during the entire 1 minute training time we are moving both the hexagon and the triangle randomly around the table. Next we introduced a third shape, a heart. Since this chicken has been used previously, I'm certain it was rewarded for pecking on the heart. That means I'll have to 'undo' the positive association of the heart and use rapid reinforcement to increase the value of the hexagon. Then I should be able to add them all together for a successful theory!

Wish me luck, or is that cluck? : )

Friday, April 2, 2010

Chicken Camp, Day 1 & 2

Let me start off by saying I LOVE CHICKEN CAMP!  This is the first Camp in a series of 4 and while I was a little figured there would be some stuff I knew, I also came to fill in some 'holes' and to learn even more. That's exactly what's happening.

We started off by receiving our chickens. We each have 2 chickens with different characteristics. For example, I have one white chicken who is a speedy-bird and my brown bird is a bit more of a thinker. I'm thrilled with both birds, but am especially intrigued with my brown thinker bird (who is pictured above). I love animals that work to the beat of a different drummer!

Our first exercise was to get our bird to peck at the white dot in the middle of our black target. White bird quickly and easily did it (I believe this bird has been to a prior camp) and then my brown bird (who is very young) was the last in our class to peck the target. 

Today I felt we were very, very close as her head was now about 2 inches from the target and for the heck of it, we decided to try a different technique. We decided to try putting a piece of food on the spot we wanted her to peck to encourage the wanted behavior and give us something more precise to try.  The result was that my chicken got mad! She knew I'd changed the rules and wasn't so thrilled with that and actually nipped me in frustration . We tried putting food on the table to see if she'd go for that. Yeah, that resulted in a second nip! Terry Ryan quickly swooped in and took my brown girl and several times offered up a new chicken. She even made me try a new one and I was bored because this trial chicken was way too much like my other chicken. I mean who wants to birds of the same temperament? 

So I told Terry I really wanted my bird back because I loved a good challenge. Low and behold, the next working session, my brown girl pecked like maniac. I felt so accomplished for having worked through it with that tough bird! She is my favorite!

My white chicken will go on to discrimination training tomorrow while my brown bird has been given a non-becking task. I had to train her to go in a circle and wouldn't you know, that bird was so in tune to me and is doing amazing circles with little effort. I guess pecking just isn't her thing...

Well, I'm off to bed and looking forward to Day 3 of Chicken Camp!!!