Thursday, April 2, 2009

Utility class - week 2

We started a new session of utility classes last week and tonight was our second week of the session. It's a stressful class for Jackson because there are several dogs and handlers working in the same ring doing different exercises, so he gets distracted and worried about what's going on around him. I'm probably a little stressed too and I think he picks up on that. He knows it's not the usual fun and games atmosphere we have in practice.

Tonight we did run throughs because several people in class are entered in a trial this weekend. Jackson's performance in the exercises was improved over last week, however, there still needs to be a lot of improvement before we're ready to enter another trial. I'm hoping that by the end of this session of classes I will see enough improvement that I will feel we're ready to enter a trial.

In his run through, the heeling and signals went well. He got all the signals, which was a real improvement. Haven't seen the avoidance behavior or lack of response to the signals at all lately. The articles did not go so well. He got the first (metal) article okay, but missed on the leather article - twice. That's the exercise where we really need to see improvement. When he is stressed, he avoids picking up the article. Doesn't appear to be as easy to fix this problem as the signals.

The directed retrieve was good, although the pivot could have been better. And, the moving stand was near perfect (his best exercise, if he doesn't anticipate). That just left the directed jumping to do. His go outs were good, but his sits were very, very slow. He got distracted so I had to give a second command for the high jump, but the bar jump was good.

Overall, I could see improvement, which is what I'm going to be looking for during this session. I figure, if he can perform all the exercises well in this stressful class environment then chances are he'll be able to perform them in a trial situation.

Training notes for next week:
- Create distractions in practice for articles
- practice run-throughs so he gets used to working the entire set of exercises


Honey the Great Dane said...

Hi Jackson,

Gosh - it sounds so serious, what you're wonder you get stressed and distracted! I think you are so amazing for doing what you do already...trial or no trial!

Hey - has your human tried clicker training with you? I only ask because I think that would really help you with the article exercise. It's great for teaching us dogs to do very specific things in a very enthusiastic way! It's all positive so there is no pressure and no stress and us doggies think it is just all a great game to figure out how to earn free treats!

Once you get the hang of it, then you can fade the clicker away. That was how I learnt to retrieve the dumb bell so quickly and enthusiastically! The club was trying to get Hsin-Yi to teach it to me the "traditional" way by forcing it in my mouth and holding it there - but I HATED that and it just made me start to avoid the dumb bell and get all stressed. So Hsin-Yi ignored them and decided to use clicker training to teach me instead. In one week, she had me bounding out to get the dumb bell and run back with it happily - no other dog in the club was as enthusiastic as me!!

Anyway, if you're interested, let me know and I can ask my human to email you to tell you more about it!

Honey the Great Dane

Kathie R said...

Hey Honey, Thanks for the suggestion. My Mom did try the clicker training, but I got scared every time I heard that click sound! So then she went to saying 'yes' instead of clicking. That was a little better, but not as timely as the clicker. She has read up on it quite a bit and wanted to try to use the clicker training concept, but hasn't really gotten into it. Hmmmm, that would be interesting to try with scent discrimination. Not sure which behavior to shape first?? Would welcome any suggestions Hsin-Yi might have : )

Honey the Great Dane said...

Hi Jackson,

I have heard that some dogs get scared of the click noise. They say your human can try wrapping a cloth around the clicker or putting it in their pocket to "muffle" the click sound - until you get used to the sound of the click and associate it with positive things (treats!).

But otherwise, saying "Yes!" is good too - you just need a consistent marker signal. Using a word is just as good for timing - the disadvantage is that sometimes the word sounds different depending on your human's mood and also may sound like other words, whereas a click always sounds the same and is a unique sound. But if you like a word better, that's fine!

Maybe your human can try teaching you to pick up a certain article alone first (without the others there) - first mark & reward for touching it, then picking it up, then holding it, then taking it back to your human. Next, get your human to try putting this article in different places around the house and sending you to go and get it, so you understand that that word is for you to search for THAT item. Next, your human can put this article next to 1 other article and your human sends you out to find it. Even if you don't pick it up, if you just touch the correct article (instead of the other one), your human should mark and reward you. Gradually, only mark and reward if you pick up the correct article. Then if you bring it back to her.

When you're really good at this 1 article, start the whole process again with a new article (eg. leather). Then the real test is to put the 2 articles next to each other and your human tells you to pick one - and you have to go to the correct one!

If you already know how to look for something and are going out to look no problem but just have a problem with picking up, then maybe your human can try and mark/reward you if you even sniff the correct article (out of the others). You don't have to pick it up - in the beginning, just reward for showing interest in the correct article. After a bit, only mark and reward if you nudge the article or mouth it. Next, withold the marker & reward until you start to pick it up. Then wait until you are holding it in your mouth. Then until you are holding it and starting to walk back. Then finally wait until you come back with the article before you get the marker and reward.

I think if your human can break it down into smaller steps and reward you first for just doing the first step, and then gradually shape the whole behaviour...then maybe that will help? It's usually when humans try to get us to do too much in one go the first time that we lose confidence and end up not knowing what to do. If we are reinforced for each step in the beginning, we do it more enthusiastically and confidently!

But the most important thing is first to spend time building the positive association between the marker (word or click) and treats, otherwise it will not be very powerful.

By the way, I am not sure how your article exercise is done....what do you mean leather and metal? Do you have to learn the words for "leather" and "metal" and pick them out? Or do you just have to find the article with your humans scent, regardless of what the article is made of?

Honey the Great Dane
ps. would your human mind posting her replies on my blog because sometimes if I forget to check back on a post I have already read, I don't realise that you posted a reply! :0) Thanks!