Friday, July 30, 2010

Long Lines In Dog Training

When Melissa goes for a run in an unfenced area she is attached to a long line. The line is 20 feet long, made of nylon, and is machine washable. I obtained mine at Clean Run the super dog (and people) store I have mentioned before. The specific line I use can be viewed here: I have one in blue, in red and in black. I like the nylon material since it rarely seems to snag when the dogs are running in fields and meadows. Occasionally it will snag on rocks along the creek, so should always be used with supervision. But those times are rare. The hours of running loose in open meadows and fields with a long line attached outnumber the occasional snag.

Some guidelines for using a long line.

1) Attach the long line to a harness. Melissa wears a front clip harness, the lead is attached to the buckle on the harness and to her flat buckle collar. This prevents any pulling directly on her neck should she get snagged while running with the long line.
2) Long lines are not are a substitute for teaching your dog to come.
3) The line is not meant to be jerked to get your dog to come closer to you, this will only teach your dog to avoid coming near you.
4) Always supervise your dog while he is wearing a long line.
5) Always reward when your dog comes close and checks in with you.
6) Do not be in a hurry to drop the long line if you are starting this training with an adult dog. It's ok to hold onto it until your cue to come is nearly 100% and you have developed a relationship of trust with your dog. It may take months, it may take a year. No need to be in a hurry.

Melissa became accustomed to dragging a long line at the age of 9 weeks. We first practiced around our fenced yard while she learned how to respond to her name (more about that skill in a future blog) and eventually in different areas. She was rewarded each and every time she checked in. Each time she came over to me, I clicked and she got rewarded. Soon I became as rewarding as the great outdoors. In the beginning I used the very best of treats to reward her for check ins, but soon I was using her daily rations when she ran loose in the yard. I saved the extra yummy treats for those really highly distracting areas such as behind the barn, and in the woods.

Melissa had lots of opportunities to run in our fenced areas, and she was learning that if she came close to me, she got a treat and then was able to go run again. This was done with the long line always attached. There was no need to corner her or grab her by the collar in order to catch her when play time was over. Checking in with me became a habit for Melissa, great things happened when she checked in. The lone line gave me the confidence to let her run loose in unfenced areas. I could easily step on the end of the 20 ft line if she went too far. We practiced at the nearby lake, in meadows and fields. Melissa ran, she sniffed, she played with other dogs, and she checked in with me! Click/treat and off she was released to go run again. Gradually I began to move a distance away from her, she continued to check in. In a few weeks I was able to move more then 20 ft from her, longer then the distance of the long line, and she continued to check in. We continued to practice name responses in separate training sessions. I was not ready to call her to me in distracting situations, so did not use a cue to call her to me. Why call her if her recall (coming when called) was not 100%? I certainly did not want her to associate 'Melissa come' with ignoring me. Instead, she was getting to do what she wanted: to run free, and since she was being rewarded for checking in, she continued to do that also. In a few months she was reliably responding to her name with minimal distractions, recall training will be on-going for life...more about that soon.

I never used the line to pull her to me. I wanted her to be willing to come to me on her own....building that trusting relationship has been the ongoing theme since Melissa came to live with us. With the help of my friends, Melissa has had many repetitions of coming close to us, having her collar touched, getting a treat and then being released to go play again. If instead we touched her collar to stop her fun of running, rolling and swimming she would soon learn to not check in and begin to play the game of keep away. Many dogs don't want to be caught since each time they have in the past, their fun has ended. They have to go back in the house, in a car, or in a crate.

By playing the collar touch game for the past 9 months Melissa eagerly checks in. Checking in does not mean the end of play time for Melissa, it means leaning on us for petting and also some treats, then more time to play with her friends. We can walk up to her and she trusts us, she does not bolt and play keep away. The majority of the time we walk up to her to pet and/or give a treat and then allow her to run free again. Occasionally I will pick up the long line and allow her about 5 or 6 ft of line, walk for a few minutes with her close by, then will drop the line with and release her with 'go play'. By doing this Melissa doesn't associate the picking up the line and being close to me as a signal that play time is over.

At 11 months of age, Melissa has a fairly good recall, and she checks in frequently. I am now calling the long line my confidence line. Melissa still wears one when we go hiking/swimming, it gives me the confidence that should she alert to something in the distance I can easily step on the end of the line.

Today while hiking she had some fantastic responses to her name with distractions and came running directly to me, plus she was readily checking in with all of us. I mentioned to my friends that it may be time to take the line off. She has had 9 months of running loose while dragging the line, she checks in, and she is responding to her name. The time spent in training this has been well worth it. Melissa has the freedom to play, sniff, swim and run with her dog friends while hiking with us. The long line was used correctly in teaching Melissa to stay close by. She gets much needed exercise and our trusting relationship continues. As always it was fun watching our dogs run, leap, and swim today. It was very rewarding to all owners to have our young dogs running back to us when we called them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fun at the lake....

....and at the cabin, and with other dogs! Last week Melissa and I spent some time with my friend Barbara and her two dogs at a cabin on a small lake. A fenced yard that led right down to the water was a bonus.

Early morns we hiked around the lake, part gravel, part dirt road. We met several other people walking with and without dogs. Melissa got to practice walking nicely on lead and also sitting politely, just because we had a few days of vacation did not mean her manners were forgotten.

The majority of the day was spent with the dogs being wet.

Water dogs they were!

On the dock, in the water, a run in the yard and back into the water.

They retrieved bumpers, they ran with bumpers, they shared bumpers.

They sniffed all the great smells in the yard.

They watched people in boats pass by the dock.

Melissa found a green ball from a previous visiting dog.

Melissa never did jump off the dock but she learned to use the steps that were on the side of the dock, or she accessed the water directly from the yard. And she swam and swam and swam. There were times that Barbara and I put the bumpers away to the dogs could take a rest. We lounged on the dock, the dogs waited patiently for their bumpers to re-appear. Melissa at times would enter the water, and just start swimming.

I am not sure if she would have gone across the lake, but she sure went way over her head. But luckily she has a fairly good recall and we could call her back to land.

In the evening while we ate dinner, the dogs waited in their x-pens which we had on the screen porch. Not one dog whined or barked to be let out, from being rewarded in the past for good behavior, the dogs easily adjusted to the new routine.

We did have two mishaps. Melissa did pick up my travel mug filled with ice and freshly poured Margarita and off she ran in the yard. I like to think it was because I have been teaching her to retrieve......

And we lost one of the floating noodles. And not in the water..... It was very enticing to her it probably looked like a very long bumper. Barbara and I were on the dock, our back to the yard. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something was Melissa with the noodle. The other dogs saw her and a little chase followed. I was able to trade Melissa a few treats for the blue noodle, but the noodle did lose a few inches......

And we had wet dogs...very wet dogs. Melissa has not yet shed her puppy curls, so has lots of coat. So we usually got the dogs in before dark, their last potty break before bedtime was on lead to prevent them from going back into the water. We dried them the best we could with towels and then had them lie in front of the woodstove . Yes, it was chilly at nights for a fire!

Glory was not the only one who could not keep her eyes open after a long day of playing outdoors.

The sunsets were gorgeous. It was a quiet time, the sky all aglow with color. What could be better then ending a perfect day with a friend and our dogs at our side?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Understanding Cues

I taught Melissa how to sit (along with other cues) by capturing the action of sitting by clicking each time I saw her sit. She understood the clicker game, so fairly quickly began offering to sit in anticipation of getting a reinforcement. I quickly began only to click and reinforce the faster sits. I added the cue word 'sit' as she was in the action of sitting, clicked and treated.

When the sit was on a verbal cue I no longer clicked and treated each time I saw her sitting. There was no longer a need to capture a behavior that was on cue. Eventually she was clicked and treated only when I cued her to do so. This is an important concept of training and especially clicker training. Clicker trained animals (horses, goats, cats and giraffes can all be trained to do behaviors on cue...along with our dogs) begin to offer behavior in anticipation of getting a reinforcement. We need to put the behaviors we are capturing on cue fairly quickly, otherwise our dogs will be offering all sorts of behaviors in anticipation of reinforcement. What fun it is to see a dog focused intently on his owner; the path to learning has been opened. The possibilities are endless!

I practiced sit with Melissa every night before bedtime cookies, we practiced for each meal outdoors. Her sits were prompt. I no longer needed to click/treat for the sit as it was now a learned those contexts. Those last 3 words in those contexts is a very important concept in training any animal.

Did Melissa really know what sit meant? We had practiced outside in the yard, we had practiced inside at bedtime. She was sitting the instant she heard the cue to sit. Surely she must know what sit means? But let's take closer look at in what context the behavior was happening. Melissa could sit at meal times, bedtime. She could sit in front of me. But part of dog training is teaching our animals to generalize the behavior. If Melissa truly understood the cue to sit she would be able to perform that behavior in many different places, on either side of me, with me holding packages in my hand, and in the presence of distractions. Once our dogs begin to generalize a few behaviors, generalization for subsequent behaviors comes much quicker. To help Melissa out, I broke our training sessions into tiny segments. Instead of standing directly in front of Melissa when I cued sit, I stood slightly with my body turned to the side (think inches) when she was able to sit promptly, I turned slightly more. Eventually Melissa was at my left side when I cued sit. We then repeated the same steps for the sit cue on my right. Then when I was sitting in a chair.

Could she sit with a toy in my hand? I went back to the beginning stages and helped the line of communication by clicking and treating each time she started to sit while I held a toy. Gradually the toy was over my head ready to be thrown, she sat when cued. The reward was the toy being thrown for her to retrieve, or a game of tug. We practiced with different toys, with me holding different objects such as a bag of groceries. In each of this situations I lowered my criteria by going back a few steps to help her and to keep her interest in the game of learning. If her sit was a bit slower due to her learning to generalize, I would once again go back to clicking and feeding. A slow response can be part of the learning process. As before, I was able to progress quickly to clicking and feeding only the prompt sits.

Melissa was now able to generalize that the cue to sit meant to sit in many different types of situations, and a sit was not dependent on where my body was or what I was holding when I cued her to sit. We practiced with other cues also. She was now getting the concept of generalizing the cue to down and to touch, target her nose to the palm of my hand. A few weeks ago she was standing in water at the lake, waiting for me to throw her bumper. I cued her to sit. And she sat in the water!!! Her reward was for me to throw the bumper.

Wow. I was feeling rather confident, my 10 month old puppy was really making progress in her training and really understood what the cue sit meant. A few days later, she met her dog friends for a hike. I release her from the car and asked her to sit. She was eagerly looking at the other dogs. I repeated 'sit' (yes, even trainers err sometimes and repeat cues....oops.....) thinking surely she must have not heard me. But she continued to look at the other dogs. In that context, Melissa did not know what the cue to sit meant. She was not 'blowing me off', she was not being dominant, she was not being stubborn. She simply was distracted by the presence of the other dogs. We had not trained the cue to sit in that context: after a car ride, arriving at the park, and in the presence of several other dogs. Lots of distractions plus the anticipation of a run in the 156 acre park. We moved a distance away from the distraction of the other dogs, and I then re-cued her to sit. She sat promptly and was then released to go play with her friends.

I wanted her to succeed, I realized that the sight of the other dogs was so exciting to her that she could not focus on me, nor had she totally generalized the cue to sit to every situation. So I helped her out by moving a distance away from the distractions so she could be successful. Our trusting relationship was intact, and she moved up another notch in the concept of generalizing behaviors. Does this mean Melissa will sit the next time she sees her dog friends at a distance? No, it will take several repetitions and consistency on my part for her to understand the concept of truly understanding each and every cue. Gradually we will move closer to distractions and even increase the amount and type of distractions. Think about the sensory overload at a dog show, it is no wonder our unseasoned dogs get unfocused. Help your dog be successful, lower your criteria in distracting situations. Melissa is learning a solid foundation for all future behaviors, she is young, she has lots to learn. I am helping her be successful while maintaining a great working relationship between the two of us.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

HOT HOT HOT. Melissa has not had any endurance running in over a week. This past week has been brutal with temps reaching mid-80s by 6 in the morning and nearly a 100 by mid day. Add in high humidity and it is no wonder that Melissa spent a good part of her days in her pool with only a few short runs thru our woods very early and very late in the day .

But finally we had a little break in the weather. Off for a hike with friends and their dogs early this morning.

The dogs ran in fields and meadows.

They fetched on land.

They fetched in the water.

They shared bumpers. Melissa puts her head totally under the water. Here she is emerging from under the water, after she retrieved the end of Dylan's bumper.

They played tug after cooling off in the water.

Running full out in a large meadow is the best for exercise, but with the high temps we had this past week that was not possible. Swimming is the way to go on hot summer days. At 10 weeks of age Melissa made her first little swim....following other dogs into chilly October water. Then winter was upon us, no swimming in the northeast until ice was out. This Spring she picked up where she left off last fall. I let her follow the other dogs and each time she went in deeper and deeper.
Now at 10 months of age sometimes she is the first in the water, beckoning her friends to join her.

Puppy Tate has not yet gone in over his head. His owner Sue is also letting him go at his own pace.

Each time he has been at the creek or pond it has been a fun time for him. No need to frighten him by using force to get him in the water. Each time he sees water he is going in further.

Today he went in past his elbows, and put his face in the water!

By 10:30 the sun was beginning to make an appearance and with it the temps started to increase. This week it will be another hot one with 90 and high humidity nearly every day.

Our adult dogs will make a few loops around the yard then they are content to lie around indoors in the AC. Even 13 year old Catera enjoys a good frolic every day. But puppy Melissa needs more then a few laps around the yard. Lots of interactive toys, lots of large butcher bones and more indoor training sessions are good mind games. But she is still developing, I want to keep her well muscled. So I juggle my schedule to take her swimming whenever possible in the hot weather. These hot summer days will pass, I am making the best of them with my Borzoi puppy and friends.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The heat continues.......

We are entering the 6th day of high 90s. Temps today may be a degree cooler, but the humidity is higher making it once again unbearable to be directly in the sun. Nothing much to do on these hot summer days, can't run the dogs in the fields, can do any training outdoors, we just have to wait until this passes.

When outdoors, Melissa is spending most of her time in her pool in the shade. And no Liz, I am not having an in-ground pool installed just for Melissa.

She and Lucy play games.

Melissa has tried to entice our house guest Buster to put his feet in the water. I tried to entice Buster into the water by throwing a few pieces of treats that float into the water. But no, Buster really would prefer to eat on dry land, and lounge inside with the AC blowing on him. When I empty the pool later today, I will toss a bit of Buster's dry kibble into the pool. I am confident he will enter an empty pool. Tomorrow I will add an inch of water, then toss a few kibbles in. If that goes well, I will continue to add a little bit of water each day. I will even wait until the water warms up a bit before giving Buster a try at it. Some dogs detest cold water. Some don't care if they plunge into icy water. I will let Buster guide me as to what he prefers, I won't force him, we'll take it slowly and move forward inch by inch. Perhaps in a few days he will be enjoying it as much as Melissa, and if not....well, there is always our air conditioned bedroom to keep him cool.

Whether your dog prefers water or a dry place to lie, make sure he has plenty of fresh water to drink, and place to get cool off. It's hot out there!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travel Precautions

The car thermometer read 98 degrees for an exterior temp. I was on a major highway on my way to teach an evening class. I saw a car on the side of the road, no one was nearby. Less than a mile up the road I saw a couple waving to passing cars to slow down. They had a German Shepherd, they were trying to stay cool in the shade of an overpass. I saw the dog so immediately slowed down. I NEVER stop on the road to pick up anyone. I will stop for a loose dog. But these looked like nice people (ok, ok, if my mom was alive I can just hear her telling me to keep going, don't stop)...and they had a well groomed, well behaved Shepherd on a lead.

I stopped, they ran over to the car. I cautiously lowered the window a tiny bit. 'Do you need help?' I asked. 'Yes, thank you so much for stopping. Our car broke down, we didn't bring our cell phones, our dog is hot, we need to get her someplace cool.' Their plan had been to take their dog for a short trip to the Hudson river, they never made it. I was going to call Triple A for roadside service as she pulled out her AAA card., But that would mean they would have to stay with the car. Couldn't do that. So I opened my car and let them in. She came into the front passenger's seat, he went in the back with their dog. I was only a few miles from the Menand's shelter where I was teaching an evening class. The first thing out of the woman's mouth was, 'Can I have some of this water/" pointing to a water bottle in a cup holder, ' I am sure our dog is thirsty'. Whew! I was not going to be held up, robbed or hijacked. These people's first concern was their dog. They used my cell to call a friend to pick them up at the shelter. When we arrived, the shelter let them borrow a dog bowl since their dog preferred to drink from a bowl rather than from their hands or bottle. As I was going up to class their friend had arrived to pick them up. They thanked me again and were on their way.

What if I had not stopped? What if no one stopped for an hour, or longer? It was beastly hot yesterday...and is again today. The heat coming off the asphalt must have made the temps over a hundred degrees, their only source of shade was the overpass.

My friends sometime joke that they could survive in my car for a week. But I am prepared for just about everything. Items I carry in my car 24/7, 365 days a year:

1) A car phone, fully charged before I leave the house each day, along with a car charger for the phone.
2) A cooler. Snacks for me, snacks for the dog...cause you just never know what a short or long trip will bring your way.
3) Water, lots of it. Each dog crate has a water bucket attached to the inside of the crate with a double sided snap. The water is changed each time we go on a trip, short or long. In the summer ice cubes fill the buckets. I also carry water in my cooler and also in a big water jug and also some bottled water. LOTS of water!
4) All weather space blanket. I have 3, they attach to the outside of my car with big metal clips. They keep the car cooler then outside temps in the summer. For winter use they can be placed with the silver side against your or your dog's body to retain heat. They cost $12. A good investment, they fold up and take very little space in even the tiniest of cars.
5) First Aid Kit. Everything from bandages to antibiotics; diarrhea meds to rescue remedy. Since I own Borzoi, a breed that can bloat, I also carry a bloat tube...which reminds me I have to replenish the lubricant, the present tube has dried out. I hope to never use it, but it is one of those 'good to have for just in case' items.
6) Bug spray
7) ID on all my dogs in the form on a microchip and also a collar that has their name and my phone number. If I am traveling a distance I have collars that have my cell phone number. ID on their crate includes their name, age, sex, last rabies vaccination, emergency contact, vet's contact, and a statement from me that I will pay all veterinarian expenses should any arise. If you do not crate your dog, put this information in a safe water proof place in your car. Include a copy or your dog's rabies certificate. I have all the dogs information in a zip-lock freezer bag. If I am caring for another person's dog and traveling with that dog I will include all their info in the same packet as my own dogs' info.
8) Extra collar and lead.
9) Winter months I always have a gallon of windshield defroster ...that blue stuff that cleans your windows on nice weather and is a necessity in the Northeast when the salt starts hitting your windshield.
10) Well trained dogs. Dogs that can be handled by others. Dogs that are also comfortable being transported in vehicles other then your own. What if you are injured in an accident and a stranger has to remove your dog from the car or crate? The 14 month old German Shepherd who entered my car yesterday immediately laid down and relaxed. It was apparent that her owners had spent quality time training her. After yesterday escapade, I am sure they will be better prepared the next time they travel with their 4 footed friend and carry water and a cell phone.

Even with a well stocked car, my own travel plans for this afternoon and evening has been changed due to the high temps. Late morning and afternoon private consultations with students have been canceled. All but my first appointment of the day, consisted of helping private students with outdoor skills. Training outside is not something that would be fair to owners or dogs in nearly 100 degrees.

Melissa's agility class this evening has been canceled. Melissa is presently enjoying herself in her new pool. The last time I looked she was lying down with her head resting on the edge of the pool. I discovered since yesterday that Melissa likes the pool filled to nearly the top...then she will lie in it. Lab Lucy is using the smaller of the pools. Yes, two pools. The smaller and the new larger are both out in the shade in the gravel part of the dog area. When the two girls are not lounging in the water, they are hopping from one pool to another splashing and wrestling. Time for me to change the pool water......

Monday, July 5, 2010

Melissa's Pool

Melissa had a kiddie pool. She tried it out back in June when we had a run of hot days.
She carried her sticks into it. She moved her ball around, but it really was really too small for her. So last week I bought her a bigger pool. This one holds a lot more water, and she can lie down in it if she chooses to.

Today it is 97 degrees. I couldn't keep her indoors the entire day. She needed some time to play outdoors. I had 3 hours between morning and evening classes to play with her. I didn't have time to take her swimming at the lake, the pond or the creek. Too hot to run, too hot to play tug, too hot to do much of anything outdoors except play in water. Perfect time to introduce her to the new pool. It has a different sound to it when her feet it the plastic. It is not at all like swimming in the lake. Melissa enjoys floating and swimming in the lake, sometimes she is in the lake before her Retriever friends. She likes water. But I still took the introduction to the new pool slowly.

I let her step into it before I filled it with water.

I let her watch as the water from the hose filled the pool.

She licked the water in the pool, she licked the water as it came out of the hose.

She even tried to carry the hose around.

She sat in the water. She blew bubbles.
She shared the pool with her friend Lucy.

As Melissa becomes accustoms to her new pool I will fill it with more water, but for now half full is all they need...and it makes it easier for me to tip over and clean out at the end of the day.

Melissa's new pool is keeping her and Lab Lucy cool on a hot summer day.