Archive for back chaining

Search Dog Gives Handler His Opinion of Her

Posted in Dog diary, dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2010 by rattlerjen

The dog and I were enjoying a sweltering hot day in the spots of shade under a thin pine tree this past weekend. A black dog and blond girl on antibiotics with a warning to stay out of the sun were just hanging out. Both of us were panting. The temperature was in the nineties and I don’t believe the humidity could be much higher in the Amazon.
Every spot of sun that hit my skin began to itch and burn after only a few minutes. I believe I know what it must be like be a vampire, and not the kind that sparkles.
Lyme disease (or whatever it is that I have) treatment aside, we began training day by hitting the ground running. Our leader for the day laid everything out with military precision. She had everyone beginning the instant we climbed out of our cars. People and dogs began scurrying around like ants just discovered invading a picnic basket; I was loving it.

My pup, Grom, was imprisoned in the shaded car in his crate with all the doors and back opened, battery operated fan going, a full bowl of water, keys on my car seat, and a watchful group of people. I got to go out and have fun without him. Boy, did he hate that.  He could not complain too much, he got a free play session soon after arriving on site.

Our task was to navigate to a set of coordinates and retrieve a backpack hidden there using only map and compass.   Everything had changed about the area since the map was last updated. Ponds and swamps were created, others were drained, and cornfields were planted.  We found the little orange backpack after ignoring everything on the map except for the contour lines following the terrain.  Most maps haven’t been updated in decades.

Grom was ready to train after my little walk out in the woods.  I could barely get his search vest on his little black bouncing body.  He pulled me like a sled dog all the way to the site we chose for training.  Well, except for the three times he decided to pee on something.  How much water can a dog hold anyway?  All three puppies were brought out at the same time to the little trail through the woods.  This was a new distraction for the pups, usually the dogs come out one at a time.  New is good, lots of people hike out in the woods with their dogs.  Last thing I need is a search dog that will not work because there is another dog around; or a clown on a pogo stick for that matter.

I was asked if I would bet my lunch and half my search gear that Grom would bark on command no matter what.  I would bet my lunch of delicious blue cheese, brie, fresh bread, fruit, and meat, but no way was I going to bet my gear.  This woman seemed like the sort that would come up with something incredibly strange like suspending me 20 feet up in a tree or maybe she kept a gorilla suit in her car.  I was not going to risk it.  She asked me to lay face down on the ground and ask him to bark.  Whew!  We had practiced that one a lot.  The little guy paused and then gave me several great barks.

Grom watched as one dog trained in the woods with her jump indication.  My dog was getting excited.  Another pup present who used to bark at nearly every dog he saw, watched on silently.  Things were going well.

Our trainer for the day suggested we all step back to having the subject, or missing person, hold the dog while we call him back to tell us where the person is.  We were just starting to work on him starting at me and finding an easily hidden subject; aka a “runaway.”  Stepping back a step is much better than making the mistake and going forward too quickly.  I figure, if my dog is getting bored with a training step, then I am not introducing enough variables into the equation.  Those could be distance, new place, new person, new time of day, new weather situation, strange things a person is wearing, other dogs, horses, parrots, clowns, noises…

gorilla suits.

G-man did well.  He needed a bit of reminding to bark the first time.  Our trainer suggested giving him his commands on the first run.  Then, immediately do a second run with fewer hints and let him work it out.  We did a speedy four runs letting the dog win his toy on the last one.  We were directed to take the dog’s gear off and let him rest and drink while the other dogs worked. Grom pranced back to our waiting area proudly displaying his toy in his mouth.

Once there, he dropped the toy and sucked 30 ounces of water down like a camel.  Then, promptly plopped down in the shade next to my foot.  That did not last for long.  Another dog barking sent Grom bouncing like a rubber ball.  It took several minutes for him to realize it was not his time to play before he settled down again.

I was standing around, waiting for my turn when someone said, “Grom just peed on you.”

“What?”  I said in a perplexed tone.  Maybe I was going delirious.  Perhaps I was becoming dehydrated and heard that wrong.

“He just lifted his leg on your right pant leg.”  She said with a smile.

I looked down to notice that indeed my right pant leg was soaked from the knee down.   Dogs are such harsh critics.

My car had the last laugh, however.  It needed a jump after I unwittingly left the keys in and the lights running.

That sent me right to a blueberry ice cream sundae on the way home.  So there!

What’s a good bark indication look like?

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by rattlerjen

Some of you have been asking what a good indication looks like

after reading my blog from a few days ago.

Here is an example of what Grom should be doing with his “bark indication.”   Notice how this Shepherd puppy runs like a bullet back from the subject (lost person) and barks her head off?  

Well, that is what we are going for.  It is much different from what our little dog is doing.  (Mostly wandering around sniffing the flowers.)  The good news; we took the advice from the team (see blog post) and applied it to his training.  It seems to be working!

I ran backwards making lots of noise after calling the dog’s name.  Halfway to me, I gave his bark command, while still acting like a goofball.  Grom ran right to me like the speedster that he is.  With only a one second pause, he began barking his head off!  Now that is a good dog.

On another note…

Grom tried to eat or destroy today:

  • power supply to laptop
  • green slime experiment for class today
  • box of washers
  • husband’s sock while still on his foot
  • the comforter
  • my computer
  • a paper towel tube
  • applied paw to my eye and left a large lovely scratch  (possible black eye)

For those of you living with a working dog; your moment of Zen.

Wait, no really, what’s the game again?

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, pets, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2010 by rattlerjen

2 ticks removed at end of training.  One tiny dog tick on my foot and one dear tick on my leg.

Note: Wear more bug repellant.

Looks like we have our work cut out for us on G-man

In the following video, our dog decided to show us all the problems he is having with training.  He completely messed up with everything but play.  I am really happy.  Shouldn’t I be disappointed?  Heck no!  This is the best thing I could possibly ask for.  The worst thing that could happen is to show up on training day and no one has suggestions on how you can improve. You want the dog to show the problems he is having, not hide them.

So, what did the little monster do this time?

We learned the traumatic trip to the vet to get his heartworm test did much more harm than earlier known.  Looks like the vet tech putting him in a full nelson to get his blood drawn has caused the little guy to be terrified of anyone putting their arms around him.  You can see him completely freaking out when the girl tried to hold him.

Then, instead of running right towards me to give me a few good barks.  He decides to visit my husband first, then forget what it was he was doing when he finally got to me.  The group believes that the dog thinks my husband is involved in the indication game and is confused with both of us there.  That makes perfect sense since the other person is nearly always around when training occurs.  No wonder he is confused.  His third problem is wandering around instead of running to me and barking.  Check out this epic fail:

Ok, no big deal, time to give the dog a second chance.  This time the subject, aka person playing the lost person, holds the dog by his collar.  I call the dog right away and give him his bark command.  He feels much more comfortable being held just by the collar this time.  The dog still decides to visit my husband before me.  I do call it a win.  The dog did finally bark, a definite improvement, and was rewarded for it.  We ended on a high note, so back in the car.  Yay!


  • dog not focused on task
  • dog visits other handler before completing task
  • dog uncomfortable with being held
  • dog has the attention span of a flea


  • Give the dog a cue that it is work time.  A special harness or collar can be put on him every time he does search related training.  We decided both his search vest and harness would be good.
  • Allow only one of us be present when he is doing search work until he is really focused on the task
  • Help the dog during training.  You may have noticed that I stood there waiting for the dog to figure out what I wanted him to do.  Remember that a new place or context is enough for the dog to forget what he is supposed to do.  Training is not a test.  My plan will be to call the dog to me and act very excited and interesting.  As he is running toward me, I will ask for his bark command.  I will run backward and act silly to keep him focused on me.  I will give him the bark command again once he gets to me if he forgets to do it.
  • For his problem with being held, I will just need to have lots of people hold him while he gets treats

As for the attention span of a flea:

He is 11 months old, his brain is doing the tween thing.  He will grow out of it.  We hope.

Practice dog indication Triple try

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , on April 23, 2010 by rattlerjen

So, we are learning how to mess up our training with a “practice dog.”  That would be our 10 year old German Shepherd retired from Customs.  Looks like we have a slight problem with her remembering what to do when she gets to me.  She is supposed to bark.  She gets to me, then spaces out.  So, I help her out with her bark command, “Preach!”

She knows that one, but after she runs away from the person holding her, she looks at the person she just left and barks.  She is supposed to look at me!  It’s all about me, man!

Ideas on this one?  I did this three times hoping that she would “get it” on the third try.  Check out what happens.

You can see me try and get her attention to me by making all sorts of silly noises.

So the second one was a bit better.  Not good enough.  I would like to go back a few steps, but when I do that she barks properly at me.  The problem is at this step in the behavior chain.

Yup, I completely messed up this one!  Let her get away with barking at the wrong person.  No wonder she doesn’t do it right!

When I wait for her to get bored and bark at me instead, she decides to go smell flowers instead of play.  I have put her back in her crate and try again later.  She plays dumb (because I am doing something wrong here) and repeats barking at the wrong person.

I give her a lot of breaks because she is old. I would like ideas on how to fix this with her so that I do not make the same mistake with our real dog in training.  I know I am messing something up.  It’s the trainer’s fault.

Sure wish I knew how to speak dog 😀

Shaping Behaviors

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , on April 17, 2010 by rattlerjen
smarty pants

smarty pants for a dog

There are a lot of things to know for a search and rescue dog.  Agility, obedience, playing, using your nose, endurance, and indication are just a few.  I am in the midst of really working on my dog’s indication.  This is the thing that a search dog does when he finds a person and is possibly the most important thing to train.   The last thing you need is for your dog to find the person and just stand there and stare at them.  Grom is being taught to run back to me and bark his head off after finding someone.  Often he stares at me and give me a lame series of weak barks before looking for his reward.  He could be bored, confused, or trying to be a smarty pants.  In any case, it’s never the dog’s fault.

I went searching for a bit of help.  Why not go to the source, Karen Pryor.  She has a fantastic article on the 10 rules of shaping.  A few rules I never had even thought about.  Most notably for me:

“During shaping, put the current level of response on a variable ratio schedule of reinforcement before adding or raising the criteria.”

I never have thought of this one.  This means he does not get a reward every time he correctly does the behavior.  For some reason I figured I needed to wait until he had the whole kit and kaboodle learned before starting on a variable treat schedule.  This just might do the trick if my pup is bored.

Another rule of note is:

“When introducing a new criterion, or aspect of the behavioral skill, temporarily relax the old ones.”

Every time I make the task a bit harder by increasing the distance between me and the subject (lost person) or ask for more barks, I have to let already learned behaviors slide a bit.  If the dog has been trained to bark five times when running back from a subject at 10 feet away from me, he can get rewarded for barking only three times if the distance is increased to 15 feet.  If he is confused or he is trying to over think the problem (smarty pants) this may help him understand that its the same deal even though the scenery may have changed.

The rules for shaping helped me think about a few things I may be doing incorrectly during training.  Check them out for yourself.

The Ten Laws of Shaping | Karen Pryor Clickertraining

Bark bark bark!

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on April 15, 2010 by rattlerjen

Sounds like Grom going to training camp for a week really paid off.  He is barking for everything and doing so loudly.  On top of that, he even did a back chaining indication with me walking away and ignoring him. The little bugger was persistent too!

Back chaining indication means he runs to a person, runs to me and barks until I give him a command.  Then he runs back to the original person.  It’s practicing what he does when he finds a person.

In other news, I joined a gym within walking distance to the house.  I am flabby.  I cannot stand it anymore.

Leaping Labs!

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , on April 1, 2010 by rattlerjen

I just had to post this great video of Haley, an SAR dog in training doing a short find.  Her jump indication is out of this world.  I am thinking of buying her a trampoline for her birthday.

I can’t wait to see this dog operational.  That is, certified to find lost people.  I always thought labs were not fast movers, but Haley could run with the best of them.  Lost humans will not be out in the woods long with THIS dog on the job!  Go Haley, go!

Hiding in a Meadow

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on March 24, 2010 by rattlerjen

I can’t believe it.  I finally made it to a weekday SAR training.  What a beautiful day to have it as well.  It was a perfect 60 degrees with a slight wind.  Woo Hoo!

My first hide was a 3 minute problem for a puppy.  She did amazingly well!  I was hiding behind a wooden structure so please forgive me for the jiggling and refocusing.  My job here was to make a loud noise first to get the dog a bit excited.  This is the first time for this dog to do a search this long, so the call gives the dog a bit of a hint as well.  You can see in the video the point where the dog found my scent trail on the ground.  Even though our dogs are air scent trained, there is no penalty from sniffing a few footprints.  Whatever gets the job done.  Good Dog!

I was very impressed with her second time finding myself and another person.  The same GSD puppy leaped up a bunch of rocks and through a thicket of brambles to get to us.  Look at all the fun she got to have for a job well done.

Grom did a great job too.  Although I didn’t get a chance to take a video as I was part of the fun.  He got to play tug and fetch with two people he has never played with before.  Boy did he have a good time.  We even tried practicing his back-chaining with people new to him.  He didn’t come right up and bark at me like he was supposed to.  I just needed to back up a little and he snapped back to business and started barking.  Good Dogs

Bubble bath

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on March 11, 2010 by rattlerjen

Ah, the wonderful time of year when the flowers bloom.  The front of my house is gorgeous with little purple croakus flowers poking up through the grass and all around my front stoop.  Lilly of the valley climb my hill and the bird feeders are filled to the top with seed.  Grom , the weirdest dog on the planet, snacks on sunflower seeds and tears a brand new hole in a 50 pound bag.  I dread I am going to discover later that sunflower seeds are poisonous to dogs or something and try in vain to call him off of the yummy seeds.  He spends the rest of the hour outside whizzing around the yard randomly picking up sticks, rocks, logs, leaves, and things out of the recycling treats

I really have no idea where he finds the energy.  This morning he was fed out of his Buster Cube.  He kicks this sucker around the kitchen for 45 minutes while it doles out a few measly kernels of dog kibble at a time.  Perfect for getting him tired. He is ready to go in his crate for a nap after battling with this thing.

He must have had one great nap because when it was time to train, he was ready!  It has been a while since we had done it, so it was time to do a bit of indication for play.  Aaron held on to the dog while I said “Preach!”  (This is the dog’s command to bark at me)  Grom ran at me full boar and barked two good barks with one squeaky toy bark in between.  As soon as I had the word “Save” out of my mouth, the dog was already playing with my husband.  Something tells me he may have this game.  There was zero hesitation and I had no need to get his attention at all other than the command.  Was this a fluke?  Does he really know this or was it luck? Only one way to find out.

barking dog

I'm good at this barking thing.

Aaron stole the dog tug back from the puppy.  (One heck of a feat if you know Grom)  He even kept his fingers attached! We restarted and I walked behind the azalea bush.  “Preach!”  Grom came dashing around the bush, looked right in my face and started barking his little head off.  I got five good, fast, loud barks before I said, “Save!”  A black boomerang dashed off and flung himself in the air to catch the tug Aaron held out.  The impact spun Aaron around while the dog’s back end flung around in the air.  Now THAT was a good one to end on.  Perfect!  I did my best not to give the dog any visual hints for what I wanted him to do.  So hears to hoping it really was perfect. 😀

My head feels like it is packed with cement and my voice is a bit scratchy.  A bit of steam to clear my head was in order.  That, my friends, means there was a bath in my future.  I closed the d0gs in the bathroom with me and gave them a few chew toys to keep them out of Aaron’s hair while he was on the phone.  I finally layed back to relax in my shallow bath when puppy nosed the shower door open.  With one smooth jump, the dog was in the bath with me biting the water and smacking it around with his paws.  Bath time over for me.  I told my german shepherd to jump in with the puppy and walked away.

A proper end of the day. Two-thirds wet dog, a pile of soaked towels, a trashed bathroom, two happy and tired wet pups.

Finally! We had a great official training day.

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on February 28, 2010 by rattlerjen

I'm just waiting for the fun to begin

Not since before the great snowpacolypse, has our team met for an official training day.  The snow has finally melted and our dog finally had a good day at training.  Not just good, but a great one!  We had a wonderful play session for the first time at an official training day.  Our puppy did not care about the forest caviar (deer poop) today.  It was all about the toy, toy, toy!  There was tugging and even barking.  Then he went back into the crate for a good rest.

We take our dogs out one at a time for training.  Check out how quickly Daisy improves on her indication.  (Dog finds the lost person, jumps on handler, then leads handler back to the lost person for play.)  Watch the first video.  Notice the dog circles before coming back to the handler to indicate.

This second video shows how fast a dog can correct a mistake the second time around.  This one is perfect!

The puppies played quite well today.  Leave it to a human to make a mistake.  (Isn’t this always true? The dogs must think we are idiots.)  I completely goofed something up by calling out too long while hiding for a dog.  I was supposed to shout only once!  Oops!  Wont do that again:)  The dog was happy the problem was so easy.  I was relieved to find out it was not a mistake that would ruin a dog.  (Believe me, there are things you can do to mess up a dog’s training for months.)

Grom’s second time out, David decided to try a short run away and hiding in sight.  Exactly what you saw in the videos about without the indication jump.  I was certain my dog was going to just trot ahead a few dozen feet and start sniffing the ground.  He wasn’t losing his mind when David ran away with his toys, just a steady pull on his collar.  When David layed down and I released the dog, he was nothing but a blur.  It was the fastest I have seen the little guy run.  Go Grom!  We did this twice, both times a huge success!

The final play time with our dog was to be agitation. (Teasing the dog so that he really wants his toy before you let him win it.)  We borrowed a lovely pink harness and a blue bungee leash from other members of the team.  I am hoping I am able to get the video of this one because I was laughing the entire time.  Grom just would not let his toy go.  I think David tried nearly every trick in the book to get it away from him.  His original plan to steal the toy while I take the dog back to the car wasn’t going to happen.  Grom simply won and we ran back to the car.

We did a small amount of obedience with a ton of other excited dogs in a field.  He did ok for how distracted he was.  I decided to take him back to the car after about 10 minutes.  I just knew the little guy wasn’t going to be able to keep his focus.  I had him do a couple of easy commands and trotted back to the car.

Learn to read your dog and set him up for success.  If you know your dog cannot concentrate in a situation for more than 15 minutes, take him out of the situation at the 10 minute mark.  Do this while he is being good.  Practice in these situations often and slowly raise the time limit.  Don’t forget to keep your time random so your dog doesn’t get bored, sometimes keeping him out for shorter times too.

search and rescue dogs virginia

The team

The day was not over yet.  We were being interviewed for TV.  All of us lined up for a group picture. I am so proud of everyone and the dogs.  Everyone did a great job behaving!

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