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Monday, February 28, 2011

Growth Hormones for Runts

Roku and Jitsu provide me with an opportunity to finally test one of my theories for accuracy, which is: that you can feed cows milk to any small puppy, the runt of a litter, for example, and they will grow larger than without it.  After all, a cows milk has the growth hormones in it to produce a 1200/lb cow., and growth hormones are growth hormones, whatever species.

Some warn that dogs are allergic to cow's milk, but my mother has fed stale bread and milk to every cat and dog that ever visited our household, and my vet assures me milk is safe for dogs as long as it agrees with them (no vomiting, diarreah, etc).

I tried this method out on Maxie, whose breeder labeled him "not show quality" because "he would be too small", and made me neuter him as a condition of the sale.  I actually had no problem with the neutering since I don't want to breed Papillons and prefer neutered pets, plus the price went down considerable with "pet quality" vs. "show quality".  But I didn't want him to be too small. 

So for about 3 months I gave Maxie 1 Tbsp/day of whole cows milk from the local Smith Creamery Dairy's grass fed cows, plus they don't homogonize their milk and pasturize at the lowest allowable temperatures.  Their milk is very rich and delicious, and extremely fresh.

Maxie grew from 4.25 lbs and 7" at the whithers at 6 months, to 7 lbs and 10.25" by 1 year old, compared to his father's height of 8" and a slightly larger mother.

Aha!  Now I have an opportunity to test my theory, with 2 9-week-old Papillon littermates, and Roku decided smaller than Jitsu.  I'm feeding Roku 1 Tbsp of milk per day, weighing them both once a week, and plotting the results right here, in 32nds of a pound:

Date               Roku's Wt. #                 Jitsu's Wt #
1/28/11            1.75 (24/32)               2.5 (16/32)
2/04/11            1.95 (31/32)              2 21/32 (+5)
2/11/11            2 (+1)                          2.75 (

I'll only be able to do this until they leave me, but maybe I'll see some definitive results by then. Of course these results will be skewed by the fact that they probably eat different amounts, expend different amounts of calories, are programmed to grow at different rates to begin with, etc.  But it may reveal some information.

Upwards and onward!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

New Iberia Trial

Maxie, 6 runs, 1 Q, XJ (5th place)
Videos posted.

Just got back from the New Iberia trial, where Maxie only Q'd 1 out of 6 runs on his FIRST EXCELLENT B trial.  Not sure why we did so poorly.  He only completed the weaves correctly twice, which could be the 22" spacing or the gap between the 2 6-weave-pole assemblies, but there were many other faults.  I was well rested the first 2 days, feeling confident and focused, weather was balmy and beautiful, everyone was friendly, the atmosphere was jovial.  I brought Willow to keep Maxie company in the crate.  Left Lucky home. Sheryl Mc and I roomed together Fri and Sat nights at LaQuinta Inn.  Charlie, Willow and Maxie got along well.
I used my new collapsible red wagon for the first time.  It carried everything in one trip except the wheeled cooler, and got lots of compliments.  Well worth the $150!
Applying my new Pre-Competition Routine skills, I was able to memorize the courses quickly.  In fact, Sunday morning with small dogs running at 7:30, I arrived too late to pick up a map or walk the standard course, but by getting successfully bumped back to the last 8" dog to run, I was able to watch 6 dogs run before I had to run it myself.   I was proud of myself for being able to memorize the path in that short time, but Maxie popped out of the weaves so we NQ'd anyway.  This is the first of Maxie's runs that did not get videoed.

I was NOT proud that on Saturday's Standard run, Maxie went into the tunnel (3rd obstacle from the end), and when he finally came out after what seemed like 3 minutes (about 8 seconds), he stopped and pissed on the tunnel exit!  OMG, how embarrassing!  I was in AGONY, but was so far ahead of him and on auto pilot, I asked him to finish the last 2 jumps.  The trial came to a screeching halt while a ring crew came out with spray cleaner and paper towels and we commenced wiping down every little groove in that tunnel exit.  Then Snow, the next Papillon to run, stopped to sniff the cleaner so out I rushed again with water to wipe off the cleaner scent.  I found out a few runs later that all the equipment had been locked in a trailer all weekend, and when the crew opened it a cat jumped out.  Apparently the cat had marked in the tunnel and several dogs either stopped to sniff it, and in Maxie's case, PROTEST the conditions found therein.  After the 8" dogs ran, the ring crew changed out that tunnel, so I guess he did everyone a favor!  I would have asked for a re-run, which would have been fair, but Maxie had also messed up his weaves so we would have NQ'd anyway.

There was a VMO present, so Maxie finally got his permanent Jump Height Card., at 10"

Judges:  Friday, Heather Dickenson; Saturday, Chris Dewey
Both judges were fair and pleasant.  Their courses were challenging but not too difficult.
Trial Site Summary: see Trial Site Summaries, New Iberia, Sugarena 

Lessons Learned:
  1. If your dog pisses on the equipment, don't finish the run! Pick up and remove them from the ring immediately, indicating totally unacceptable behavior. GAME OVER! I did get some praise for helping the ring crew clean up the mess.
  2. Just before and during a run is NOT the time for Conflict Resolution.  Susan Garrett warns about this in her PreCompetition Routine course, which recommends developing a mental strategy for dispelling all negativity and focusing instead on the task at hand.  A conflict happened to me on Sunday and I didn't do worth a crap dispelling it. I staggered thru the course feeling knifed in my back, Maxie felt my pain, exceeded course time for the first time, turned wide, and faulted 6 times (more faults than any other run ever). I clearly need to develop a strategy for handling negativity. (see 1 below).
  3. Once you get to Excellent B, you stay there forever, with 20MACH dogs competing in the same class with pre-MACH dogs.  That seems grossly unfair and I'd like to see this changed (see 2 below).
  4. Nedra says I take too long to get to the start line when the previous dog has cleared the appointed obstacle, and too long to remove Maxie's leash after the judge says GO.  I thought I was doing fine but I'll try to be more conscious of that. 
  5. Videos: I am becoming more comfortable with the hand held camera, it is more convenient, and easier to zoom, but also easier to screw up, and end product shakier. Transportation and set-up of the tripod is more time-consuming, I still prefer the tripod method, especially with multiple users, except that it's harder to find friends willing to sit apart to operate the camera. Sitting apart is essential to avoid recording unwanted commentary.
  6. Leashes: I started out using a clip-on leash, but the ring on Maxie's tiny collar is so small and my hands used to shake so badly after a run, I could not get it back on.  A few times I just picked him up and pretended the leash was attached.  Since then I've switched to a slip on leash (much easier) but sometimes the leather slide gets tangled in his ear feathers.  I now try to loosen the noose before we enter the ring then just slip it off at the start line. 
Actions to take:
  1. After the trial, I visualized carrying an aerosal can of "Knife Dissolver" in my pocket, that I can immediately spray on any psychological wound. I plan on keeping it handy as you can never predict when a poison dart will fly at you.  Best to turn off the phone, leave family and friends at home, crate in a quiet space, tag and avoid folks who repeatedly mess with your head (whether intentionally or not), learn to dispell negative thoughts or feelings immediately. Concentrate on the thrill of trialing with your dog.

2. Write to AKC to create a new class so pre-MACH dogs don't have to vie for placement with MACH dogs who routinely Double Q.  It wouldn't cause much trouble.  They'd still all run the same courses.  Same run orders.  Just one more category in the computer.  Here's the letter I finally wrote, and AKC's response.
So much to do this week.  Download, process, and upload to Picasa over 120 videos and photos, which takes about 3 days.  Help Nedra set up a course Monday afternoon, Monday night class, Tuesday night meeting, teach Wednesday night Beginners class, Thursday and Friday prepare for Lucky's first trial, USDAA, in Baton Rouge, on Saturday and Sunday.  Help Kathy with the raffle. Deal with the puppies, whose incredible drive, curiousity and enthusiasm keep me endlessly entertained.
Upwards and onward!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Papillon Puppies For Sale!

Roku (9 weeks old, male)
Update! 
Puppies are sold!

Roku and Jitsu - temporary names we are using to identify 2 purebred AKC Papillon puppies I have for sale, littermates from a litter of 2 with champions in their bloodlines, from The Pines Papillons, breeder Lois Horan, whose website is http://www.thepinespapillons.com/

Photos can't do justice to these scampering little personalities, but show their markings pretty well at 9 weeks old. The video below will give you a taste of their liveliness, alertness, and adorable antics.



Jitsu (9 weeks old, female)
Recently married and about to take a trip, my cousin Lois gave me these babies on 1/26/11 to either train, start my own breeding program, or sell.  Since I have no desire to breed dogs, and have 4 dogs already and 2 that I'm actively training.  I can't keep them.  So I am looking for new owners who can provide really good homes for these little jewels.

By Lois's professional assessment, at this age neither puppy shows any faults that would prevent them from conformation showing.

After a week at my house, I finally got a day warm enough to put them outdoors for more than a few minutes.  See video below:



Here are the particulars:
Birthdate: 11/25/10
Color:  Red and White (both puppies)

Pedigree (3 generations back):

Sire
THE PINES GOOD TIME CHARLIE

Birthdate: JUL-21-2004
wt. 6.5 lbs,
Red and White
Points: 1 major and 11 points
toward 2nd major



Sire
CH.COQUINA'N'CAPRICE U MR LUCKY (CD)
Sire
CH.NILKO DU MAS DE LA REVELIER (FRANCE)
Dam
CH.HALLMARK'S SAVANNAH ROSE
Dam
THE PINES N CAPRICE FANTASIA

White and Black
Sire
CH.CAMELOT'S WHITE MAGIC
Dam
CH.THE PINES CAMEO ROSE
Dam
GOSSAMER WING TALIA

Birthdate: Mar 29, 2007
wt. 5 lbs.
White Black and Tan

Sire
NIGHTFIRE'S ESSENCE TO WIN (GERMANY)

White Black and Tan
Sire
EMERAUD VOM SCHWABENHOF (GERMANY)
Dam
LINDATORPS AHLIZA (GERMANY)
Dam
THE PINES CALAMITY JANE

White and Sable
Sire
CH.THE PINES PRINCE OF ARGYLL
Dam
SHELTONS ANNIE OAKLEY

As you can see, these puppies have a solid pedigree and may have potential as show dogs/breeders, thus are eligible for AKC Full Registration to the right owners. Dew claws are removed and they are up to date on all shots, with vet certification that they are in good health. All paperwork for AKC registration will be filled out at time of purchase.

Back of head markings (Jitsu on left, Roku on right)
How To Purchase:

Interested parties,
call Michele at 225-978-8688
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Will not ship.  Must pick up.






First short video I took of Roku and Jitsu at play in their Xpen, a week earlier than the video above, puppies considerably smaller:

   video

A few weeks later, and I've been working with the puppies every day, and link here to another blog post, with more photos, illustrating that both these puppies are quick, smart and eager to learn.
The Guessing Game

Thursday, February 17, 2011

USDAA

United States Dog Agility Association.  Why bother with it, since I'm only now, after 2 years, finally getting familiar with AKC Agility rules?  And there is only one USDAA trial in or near Baton Rouge every year, so I have no intention of going for titles with either Maxie or Lucky.  And the local USDAA club, calling itself OverCome Agility, does not solicit members so there's no readily apparent way to get involved.  And, most of OverCome's few members are also members of the LCCOC.

Still, I have heard the USDAA trials are loads of fun, with different games and challenges than AKC offers - Snookers, Gamblers, Steeplechase.  And a lot of agility competitors around the country prefer USDAA to AKC, and it's an older club.  It has slightly different equipment.

So, I decided to go ahead and register Maxie and Lucky into USDAA, at $20 apiece, which I did online a few weeks back.  I'm waiting for those cards to come in the mail.  Meanwhile, I entered Lucky into the USDAA trial taking place in Baton Rouge next weekend, as a warmup for her debut as a Novice B AKC competitor in Port Allen.  I'm going to see if her AKC career unfolds as rapidly as Maxie's did.

I was shocked, after registering them in USDAA's Competition category, to learn that Maxie has to jump 12" instead of the 8" he trains on for AKC, and just as shocked to learn that Lucky has to jump 26" instead of 20".  That leaves Maxie out of USDAA trials unless I lower him to Performance status, which I might do.  I don't want to confuse him with different height jumps.

Higher height category doesn't much bother Lucky's chances, as she is a jumping fool and takes 26" jumps with ease. I have a few of these set up at home, mixed in with 20" jumps.  Last night on the agility field, after teaching my Beginners class, I had her run a whole course at 26", and I believe she likes it better.  I also learned from Tracey that in AKC, you can always enter at a jump height higher than the minimum required, which means Lucky can compete in a rarified 26" category that has very few other dogs.  This means much greater chances of placement and getting all those "wibbons" we like so much.  Checking the Running Order Lists from the last 3 trials I attended, there was only 1 26" dog running in every Excellent category, compared to 20-30 20" dogs, where the competition is very stiff and placement highly unlikely.

So I'm happy!  I'm just concerned about stressing out her shoulders.  I don't want to injure her.  I massage her shoulders every morning and night as it is (because I like the feel of her), but she doesn't seem the slightest bit sore or fatigued from last night's strenuous jumping.

Snooker: 
A few Saturdays back clubmate Georgie M. gave a private class at her house to teach us the rules of Snooker.  That was nice, about 8 people showed up, and she served hot steaming chili afterwards.  She had a Starters and an Advanced course set up in her yard.  (The rules are the same for both, only more difficult sequencing.) 

The Rules: 3 red jumps (gates, worth 1 point each).  Dog has to take one gate, then any numbered obstacle, the second gate, then any numbered obstacle, the third gate, then any numbered obstacle, then complete a sequence of obstacles numbered 2-7 (27 points total), for a minimum total of 37 points, within a specified time period.  Highest points, then fastest dog, wins.  It's strategy, planning your moves so the gates are convenient to get to, and the dog lands ready to start the 2-7 sequence after taking the 3rd obstacle.  Oh, and there can be two like numbered obstacles, for instance 6a and 6b, in which case both obstacles must be taken to obtain 6 points.

Both Maxie and Lucky ran both courses.  We did well in Starters, with lots of points.  Advanced was too difficult for all of us.  Maxie got it on the 3rd try, but there were some weird configurations to get high points, one of which required running half way across the course to reach the next obstacle.  Like 35' away.  I learned we need more flatwork training (running alongside) to get this right.

Tracey warned me last night that some of the obstacles are different in USDAA, too.  The A-frame is taller, steeper.  The tripple bar jump is spread much farther apart!  Not sure Lucky could clear that, we set up a tripple using 3 singles and I tried Lucky over it.  She cleared it with no problem whatsoever.  Next week I'm raising the A-frame to test her on that.  We'll keep practicing til next week.

I entered her in Starters Jumpers, Standard and Snooker.  Two runs a day, I volunteered for Gate Keeper and other stuff, and we get to come home at night.  I intend to take videos of her runs and see how she does.  She can be full of energy, or totally lethargic.  With her, you never know.  Her highest motivation is tugging and chasing her toys, so I have to figure a way to tug her to the gate, hide the toy where she knows she will get it after the run is over.  I will leave Maxie at home so I can concentrate on Lucky alone. Should be fun.  That's in 10 days.

Am doing wash and packing for New Iberia trial, about 1.5 hours away.  Leaving 7:30 a.m. tomorrow.  Gotta go.

Upwards and onward,

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guessing Games/Shaping Behavior

Shaping dog behaviors is a relatively new concept for me.  I had heard of "Shaping" on the 2x2 weave pole DVD by Susan Garrett, (where you wait for a dog to offer a behavior you are looking for, without any clues, then reward it), and I know there's at least one book out called Shaping Success, again by Susan Garrett, but I had never applied Shaping to anything but weave entries until I got the Papillon puppies.  Since I'm keeping them a few more weeks (until they are 12 weeks old) before advertising them for sale, I am looking for little games to play to test their intelligence.  I want to send them off with as good a foundation as I can. We sit on the kitchen floor each night while my dinner cooks and I come up with all sorts of little tests for them.

I started out just playing tug, teaching them to COME on command, enjoy being picked up, held, kissed, handled, bathed, pee and poop outside on grass, etc.  They got all that down the first week.  Now what?

So night before last, I set out an upside down cardboard box (like 4 6 packs of soda are stacked in), and rewarded them for getting on it. Simple. Both could participate simultaneously.

Playing the Guessing Game with Roku (2 lbs) and Jitsu (2.75 lbs)
Papillon littermates at 10 weeks of age,
The task was "sit in the bowl".
 Last night I upped the stakes. I set out a pottery bowl just big enough for one at a time to fit in, and sat on the floor beside it, about a foot away, my mouth stuffed with baked chicken breast.  Then I waited.  Roku and Jitsu know I have chicken in my mouth (from the night before) and that they are about to get a treat if the do something or other.  They try crawling up my chest, licking my face, running around like maniacs, jumping on the cardboard box.  Nothing produces a treat.  Finally Jitsu hops in the bowl, I immediately mark the behavior with YES, and deliver a TREAT.  She continues sitting in the bowl.  Nothing happens.  Finally she jumps out of the bowl.  Nothing happens.  Finally she jumps back in the bowl and voila, another YES, TREAT.  Out, in, out, in.  Jitsu catches onto this within 3 tries.

All this while Roku is running around trying other stuff.  Finally one time, Jitsu hops out and runs off, Roku immediately hops in.  YES, TREAT.  They get competitive.  Jitsu, the larger puppy, pushes Roku out, sits, YES, TREAT. Hops out and hops back in again before Roku gets another chance. YES, TREAT.

I am wondering how to even out the score when Roku offers another behavior I decide to treat for.  He walks around the bowl Jitsu is occupying, hugging the outer edge.  YES, TREAT.  He does it again.  YES, TREAT.  He catches onto this right away, goes around maybe 2 dozen times. Now I am rewarding a different behavior with each puppy.  Finally one time, Jitsu hops out, Roku hops in.  YES, TREAT.  Roku hops out, Jitsu hops in, YES, TREAT.  Roku walks around the bowl.  YES, TREAT.  Jitsu hops out, hops back in . . . . . . . . . this goes on for several minutes.  They are jacked up and ready to continue, but there were so many YES, TREATS, I ran out of chicken breast.  After the game is over, I manage to stage a few still shots of them sitting in the bowl.  Too cute!

Now I put the puppies away and bring in 3 year old Maxie.  We've never done Shaping, nor played the Guessing Game until the night before with the cardboard box.  I put down a bigger bowl, with a rim that tips if he stands on the edges.  Gotta make it more difficult for my trained dog, right? I sit beside it, my mouth full of chicken gizzards. He has no idea what I am doing or how to get a treat.  What will he do? He becomes very anxious, whining, wiggling, staring into my eyes, jumping in and out of the box (last night's trick), pawing at my legs, and offering his whole list of old tricks -- go around, roll over, down, wash your face.  After awhile he notices the bowl and begins offering behaviors.  2 feet in the bowl.  YES, TREAT.  He held that pose.  Nothing happened.  He laid down across the bowl.  Nothing.  He tried tipping the bowl.  Nothing. Retreat from the bowl, whine, wiggle, paw at me.  Nothing.

After trying last night's box trick a few times
 without last night's results, Maxie finally noticed,
 then sat in the bowl.  After his jackpot of treats,
he stubbornly wouldn't get out.  It took him awhile to notice
there were no more treats until he
got out and then sat back in.
Finally he hopped in the bowl and sat.  YES, JACKPOT OF TREATS.  He freezes.  No treat.  Out, In, Sit.  YES, TREAT.  After that, he had it.  Out, In, Sit, YES TREAT, over and over, until I finally ran out of gizzards.  He did not want the game to end. He was visibly proud of himself for figuring it out.  His eyes were sparkling.

I saw newborn puppies and mature dog filled with excitement and an intense desire to offer a smorgasboard of behaviors.  I saw them watching my eyes intently, as if asking "is this right, is this right", at 100% attention.

ALASSES:
Alas, I saw 10 week old puppies figure this game out as quickly as a mature well trained dog. 
Alas, because I didn't know enough to do this with Maxie when he was a puppy, I'm right back where I started with FoohFooh, feeling I let him down. 
Alas, because whoever gets these puppies will not likely know much about training them to their full potential.  They will become bored little house pets.
Alas, because now I want to train a dog from a tiny puppy. 
Alas, because I don't want another dog.
Alas, it's time to put my big girl panties on again and deal with more guilt, which is why I reckon I am writing this article, in hopes that someone will read it and begin their puppies on Guessing Games right away.

PLAYING THE GAME:

First, I don't recommending doing this with 2 dogs at once.  My puppies weigh so little and take up so little space, it didn't matter much.  But with older, larger dogs, put the others away so you and the dog can give each other 100% attention.
.
The hardest part of this game is not giving any clues.  We are so used to leading.  To luring to teach a desired behavior.  Clicking, treating and praising to mark that lured behavior.  We are used to naming behaviors -- sit, down, stay, come, over, tunnel, etc.  We are used to signalling behaviors with our hands and bodies.  We are used to CONTROL.  We are not used to just sitting quietly and observing, waiting for the dog to offer a behavior.  It is very hard not to "help" the dog figure out what we want.  But once they understand the game, which might take a session or 2 of giving a clue or 2 (like tapping the box), or selecting a simple task at first (like D nudging your hand), guessing is exactly what stimulates and engages the dog to think.  This game is all about them GUESSING. About us WAITING.
You don't have to know the behavior you are looking for when the game begins.  You can just sit near your dog, give some signal that the game is about to begin.  You could say, "Hey, Maxie, want to play the Guessing Game?", and when they do something cool, YES TREAT, then stick to treating only that one behavior. Start with simple things, such as lying on a pillow, jumping into a box, touching a plate, etc., and increase complexity over the dog's life to discrimination skills such as touch the yellow pillow instead of the red or green pillow.  Touch something with your left paw only.  Go clockwise around the chair.  Fetch one particular toy out of a choice of 3. Stare at the ceiling.  Anything they might naturally offer on their own is good.  (I would not wait for a dog to bark who doesn't bark, or to fetch who doesn't fetch, for example.)

Clicker Training:
If you use a clicker to mark the behavior along with your YES, TREAT, you are doing Clicker Training at the same time, and can eventually fade out the YES.

I hadn't realized that my dog training had become a tad "stale", both for myself and my dogs until I experienced the HIGH of this game last night.  I am overwhelmed with these wee tiny babies' intelligence, enthusiasm, and willingness to work for treats. 

Perhaps we humans could play the "Guessing Game" with each other at parties to release some of our inhibitions.  Dog trainers should do this to each other to see the game from the dog's point of view.  Mothers should definitely play this with their babies, using praise and claps for treats.  Oh, I feel more guilt coming on.  Sorry, son.

Shaping Behavior:
After treating a behavior over and over, you can shape the behavior by adding a name to it, such that when you say "yellow pillow", the dog goes and gets on the yellow pillow, without a reward.  Weave, and they weave.  Crate up, and they crate up.  Bow, they bow.  Get in your bed, they do so. You can add hand signals. These have enormous value, of course, in dog training and control.

But that is NOT primarily what the Guessing Game is valuable for.  The Guessing Game is mostly about keeping the romance alive between dog and handler.  Long after your dog is perfectly shaped and trained to your liking, you can still have them play at offering new behaviors (ones that aren't particularly practical, are not part of daily life, will never earn them ribbons or titles).  You do it just because it's loads and loads of fun. And, you can do it indoors, on rainy days, from your TV chair.

Upwards and onward, keeping the romance in our canine relationships! 

A mesmerizing thought!  Is that the secret to being charasmatic? Keeping them guessing, being mysterious, not telling all, making it so people have to figure you out?  It's what they always do in the movies, crossed messages, not revealing all, to keep the plot convoluted and the viewer intrigued.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Trialing Environment

The agility trialing environment is noisy, busy, dirty, stressful, and largely unfamiliar.  Long before I ever thought of competing, though, I was volunteering at our club's local trials and matches and bringing Maxie and Willow along for "socialization".  I didn't realize at the time that by crating them near other dogs, parading them up and down the halls and ringside, walking them on leash amidst teeming masses of people and dogs, I was proofing Maxie (and myself) against all the barking canines, buzzers, and excitement.  By the time we began competing, Maxie and I were both used to it.

That worked so well, I began Lucky in the same way.  In fact, I met Lucky at a trial when she was 8 weeks old and didn't even know how to go up and down the stairs of the bleachers.  I've been bringing her to all of Maxie's trials ever since, and she will have her first competition almost exactly 2 years later in the Parker Coliseum (a USDAA trial), the same arena Maxie first competed in.  Already, she isn't nervous a bit in the trialing environment, crates up for long periods without complaint, doesn't bark, is friendly to all, etc.

I've heard I should bring a tape recorder and tape all the sounds that occur at a trial, but since I take videos and play them frequently at home, the incessant barking and other noises are on there for my dogs to hear.  You don't really notice these as much at a trial as you do on the videos in the quiet of your living room, where when my dogs hear them, they often bark in concert.  (They don't do that at a trial.)

Now along comes the Agility Nerd, who posted on his blog this morning, a file you can download of all the new electronic timer sounds used at Agility Trials.  These can be played at home on Windows Media Player or QuickTime to innure our dogs against these loud and unfamiliar sounds.  Here's the link:

http://agilitynerd.com/blog/agility/equipment/farmtek_timer_sounds.html

This is a great addition to my dog training tool kit.  I've been using it this morning and plan to play it several times a day just before each trial.
Upwards and onward!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Non-Reward Markers (NRM's)

Non-Reward Markers are forms of correction, such things as telling your dog NO, AHH, OFF, LEAVE IT, applying leash pressure -- things you do that let your dog know to cease what they are doing.  They shape behavior without food or toy rewards.  Some consider them negative, even harmful. Susan Garrett posted a discussion on the use of NRM's and asked for commentary.  She says she never uses them. But if that is so, I think that is only because she has so much confidence and certainty in her training methods, they don't seem born of frustration.

I read a bunch of the guilt-ridden comments from uncertain trainers, and when I couldn't stand it any more, posted the following:

"This whole discussion raises the hair on my neck because it reminds me of the total guilt trip society has done on parents ever correcting their children for fear of warping their character, demotivating them, depriving them of their God-given rights, etc. So now we have a world full of smart-mouthed, spoiled, un-ruly children who can barely function on the job yet don't respect the adults who support them, and they think they rule the universe.

A little "punishment" in the form of leash pressure or an AH or a NO is no way shape or form dog cruelty, and if you agree with Michael Ellis's work, puppies should learn right from the get-go not to fear a few well placed, well deserved NRM's. Puppies come into this world pliant and adaptable, they don't scar that easily, they recover from being corrected. With that assurance, your well-placed, well-meaning, properly delivered (without hostility), confidently delivered NRM's should be an integral part of their character-building training.

So I urge you one and all, don't abdicate your authority. Don't be afraid to correct your dog. You are the one who knows what they ought to do, in some cases absolutely need to do. You absolutely HAVE to be in charge. And I agree with Lori and Loretta, don't leave your dog confused about how to please you. Ask for what you want, reward lavishly, of course play the shaping game (where the dog guesses what you want and when they accidently deliver it, you treat, until they are doing it deliberately over and over) as far as it will take you (different for different dogs), but as needed give clues, including NRM's. And always, as any self-respecting teacher or scientist does, observe the results of your experiments, and if you're not getting what you want, try something else. Don't be afraid of your dog.

My observation has been if you deliver NRM's with ANY shade of guilt, your dog will quickly pick up on that and start playing the worst head games with you--wilting at your slightest criticism, looking sad or guilty, hanging their head down, running away, tail between their legs, whining, looking afraid to participate, etc. And that is them dishing out their NRM's on you, shaping your behavior!

In conclusion: if you want to diminish the need for NRM's, be confident in your training. You'll get a much more confident, happier dog."

This comment seemed to flush a different set of commentators out of the woodwork, trainers who aren't afraid to give commands.  I found this most satisfying, and chalked one up for the gipper!

P.S. The next day, Susan came back to clarify she meant not using NRM's during a shaping game where D is guessing at the behavior you're looking for, trying all sorts of things to see what will earn them a reward.  At that point, you don't punish wrong choices because you aren't giving them any clues what to do.  You want them to feel confident exploring and continuously build up a positive training relationship with you.  That's quite a bit different from never, never, ever using NRM's!