Archive for dog training problems

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

Squealy at the vet

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2010 by rattlerjen

Just when you think you have done enough training with your dog, something new comes up to prove you wrong.  I have been diligently conditioning my puppy to loud noises, nail trimming, brushing, ear cleaning, teeth brushing, baths, table tops, and general examinations.  So, when I took my dog to the vet today for a general checkup and shots, I was confident my pup would do well.  And he did – until it was time for the blood test.

Seconds after my dog was led into the back to get his blood drawn, a blood curdling yelp echoed from the back rooms.  Ignoring it, confident it was not my dog, I went back to entertaining my old Shepherd.  A moment later my black little puppy was back in the room with me along with the vet and a tech.

“So, that was him back there?” I queried.

“Yes, we thought it would be easier with you in the room,” the vet replied.

Out came the treats.  Grom was happily snarfing down little bits of hotdog and sausage until they came close.  One gentle attempt at restraining the dog resulted in a cry and a barrage of wiggling and paws.  Maybe I need a better grip.  So, I really went in this time and held him in an official bad dog restraint.  Wiggle, wiggle, paw, yelp, roll!

Distracting him with treats didn’t help much.  When I teamed up with the vet tech, a series of crocodile rolls, kicking, and thrashing occurred.  This was going no where fast, if we were lucky.  The next time, we could end up covered in urine, blood, and poo.  Been there done that, got the t-shirt don’t need to repeat that experience.

The muzzles came out.  Perhaps we could slide one of those suckers on and give him much more freedom without fear of him biting us.  The vet tech tricked him into going into the corner of the room.  She turned around and backed in between a bookcase and the wall.  Grom, being the athlete that he was, slammed his doggie butt into the bookcase and slid it over about 6 inches.  The tech expertly slipped the muzzle over the dogs nose.  She was unsuccessful in treading the strap through the loop to secure the muzzle to his face.

I tried to be sly about and and slip the muzzle on while giving him a good scratch.  When I went for the strap, he flipped on his side and flopped like a freshly caught trout.  The tech had one of his legs and I ordered her to let go.  Grom whirled around and hid behind me.  I ignored him and got up in a chair.

Ok, so no muzzle.

He was breathing heavy and this point and was stressed.  He came right out of hiding and started approaching everyone, again.  Either he is very stupid or very forgiving.

I wished that I could have a chance to make this easier on him, but we had to get his heartworm pills.  Only choice was to traumatize him now and train for this later

The vet noticed that his doggie veins were popping to the surfice nicely due to his stress.  She suggested we try something crazy.  “Let try to not restrain him at all.  I took the biting end. The vet swifly poked the needle in and drew out a few drops of blood.  Pup was sick of sitting still.  He stomped his back leg holding the need and wiggled away. A few drops of blood dripped on the floor, but they got enough for one test.

After the puppy was let go, he came right back over.

Moral of the story.  You forgot to train for something, it’s never to late to try, so get out there and do some training.

I found my dog is a good guy. Despite being tortured he came right back over for a treat  from the evil vampire vet!

On to level Four

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

Yup, it looks like we are changing our schedule again.  Grom just got kicked out of Level 3 at All About Dogs.  He is now on to Level 4 in obedience class.  I am so belgian malinois
Really, I am surprised.  We are trouble makers.  This week Grom climbed up on top of the crates lined against the wall and went pacing pack and forth across the tops.  Did I tell the mountain goat to get down?  Heck no.
Did I freak out and move away from them when he flopped off of them in a disorganized THUMPH in a pile of black fur and floppy legs?  Nope!  I laughed my butt off and called him an idiot when he leaped right back on the crate.
I didn’t get this way overnight, mind you.  As my husband would attest, I am still a controlling stressed out witch on occasion.  I am working on it, okay!
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my husband is when you or the dog make a mistake, laugh.  Spend more time playing around with the dog and get in to trouble with him. Obedience class is not a college entrance exam and it should not resemble 4th grade grammar class with Sister Constance and her hand smacking ruler.
Search and Rescue training is hard.  Most of the time you just don’t want to get up that hour early to practice in the rain.  You just have to find reasons to get up and keep at it.  I like to “fake it till you make it.”  Pretend you are having a good time.  Soon, you will be.
If you act like bad weather at 5 am is great fun, your dog will to.  It’s a good practice to use with all sorts of things.  Get one nail clipped, play time!  Two minutes of brushing –  time to play fetch.  Getting bored and distracted in dog class because you have a puppy brain? Then it is time to jump on the wall, get a big tummy rub, or run around in circles.  Be a goof!

And don’t forget to follow your own advice.

I cannot wait to learn what Level 4 has in store for us.    (See line above)

Bigger crate and more time in it.

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by rattlerjen

Our puppy is getting big.  The little monster must have doubled in size since December.  I made the trek out to our shed in the remaining 8 inches of melting snow to fetch a larger crate.  Squish, squish, splash, crunch, crunch, slide, squish, crunch.  My old worn out hiking boots braved the black ice, mud, puddles, and melted then refrozen snow blanketing the trail to the wood sided structure.  I managed to successfully get the large disassembled crate awkwardly through the swinging door of the shed. Then I stopped to chose a good path through the back yard.

I was soon to learn a lesson in the importance of good equipment.  I balanced the two oversized clamshell halves in front of my body with my short arms. All the time Grom is leaping back and forth in front of me. While crossing the slush covered wood ramp back the house, my feet slid forward and I feel right on my bum, Hard! Grom made a delighted squeaking noise and bounded into the dropped crate to joyfully maul my face.  As I felt the mud and freezing water seep through the fabric of my pants, the puppy hooks his lower canine in my left nostril and successfully worms his tongue up my other nostril.  Disgusting snorting noises accompanied his slobbering.  I frantically tried to regain my footing, but continued to slide around on the wet wood like a giraffe on an ice rink.  Once at the bottom of the cursed wooden ramp, I was able to rid myself of the slobbering toothy devil and navigate my way back to the house.  A few moments later I had the crate assembled and a quarter cup of dog food thrown in.  A black streak of puppy fur flew into the crate and I closed the door.

Training a working dog often requires a bit of experimenting.  Every dog is different. Since Grom has gotten a bit dense about indication work, I decided to take a bit of advice from yesterday to heart.  I was suspecting the dog was getting way to much free time running around the house and occasionally playing with my older dog.  Now he thinks we are nuts when we ask him to actually do something to earn play.  Hey man you gottta get it into your thick puppy skull that working dogs don’t get things for free.

We tried indication work just like yesterday.  Success!  The little flash came running towards me on the command.  YES!

Back to closely managing his free – play time.  We have to make sure that he is not having too much fun outside of his safe little bed.  Only time will tell.

Not a barking clue

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by rattlerjen

I believe the second step in back chaining an indication must be the most difficult.  We are asking a dog to run away from the person with all of the toys and the fun and go bark at a person that only barks commands back.  Perhaps we are not practicing enough and the dog just isn’t making the connection?

Poor Grom only wanders away from the fun person holding him and sniffs at the ground for a while before deciding to bark.  Once he does, he sprints back to the toy holding chump for play.  I am constantly going back a step.  (He barks on command and gets rewarded from one person.) He does this perfectly.

Possible solutions?

  • Run backwards and act really fun when asking for the bark command
  • stand right next to the person with the toys when asking for the bark
  • reward only for one bark or even a whine then increase criteria
  • immediately put the dog up if he starts to sniff around instead of running to handler, try again later
  • Do a search on the net for other possible answers
  • ask the rest of my team for ideas

I have found one good article on training from a group in Houston.  From what I can read so far, it appears that the dog is barking at the found person as opposed to running back to the handler and barking.  It does offer excellent advice on training with context and distractions in mind.

In other news.  Always remember, when a dog is singing “Prelude to Puking.”  Putting him in the shower is a fine idea.  When he vomits up parts of one of his toys, that toy needs to find its way to the trash ASAP.  Do this before you forget or you will be dancing to the hurling song on a regular basis!

Old dog teaches owner new tricks

Posted in dog training, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2010 by rattlerjen

How to stop a dog from playing keep away.

We have a 9 year old German Shepherd retired from Customs work due to health issues.  The wonderful thing is that she is very good with the puppy.  Even better, she does not play with him for long so the puppy has energy for training.  The best part of all is that she has already been trained to search for things.  She has been doing a wonderful job at being our guinea pig for some of our training with the puppy.  When she does not respond to something during a training session, it is usually because we messed up!shepherd with ball

Just recently she solved a problem with our puppy.  Grom always likes to parade around after winning his toy playing keep away.  Agitation training with him has helped much in getting him to run full speed at us when we have the toys, but he just doesn’t seem to understand that the play would continue if he would just bring the darn toy back.  He wouldn’t even come back for the identical toy we would produce.  No matter how much we jumped around and acted like idiots, the puppy would ignore us.  My husband and I would even play tug with each other trying to get the puppy to come over.  No go.

So how does an old dog teach its owner new tricks?  Aaron got the idea from playing fetch with Heidi.  When she returned with the ball, she wouldn’t drop it right away unless you asked her.  Many times she would literally bonk her head into you with the retrieved ball in her mouth.  If you try and take it out of her mouth, she would tug.  Is she playing keep away?  Couldn’t be that.  Heidi hates playing keep away.  She would immediately come back to you anyway if you let go of the tennis ball while she was tugging on it.  AH HA!  She brings the ball back to play tug with you!

The solution was a very specific game of two tugs or two balls.

Check out how my husband plays with the puppy now.  Only after a few times with this new play, the dog no longer plays keep away!   Belgian Malinois are very fast, so many times you might see the puppy get the toy before he was supposed to.  The key is to play tug with the toy he has in his mouth when he comes back to you.  You use the other toy to lure him near you.  If he drops the one he has before he gets to you, simply throw the toy YOU have.

Dog eats wedding ring

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2010 by rattlerjen

Thank god he spit it out!  In his little puppy brain, Grom decided that the container the ring was in looked tasty.  A quick hop up on the dresser and he had the thing in his mouth.  The small box clattering to the floor is what woke me up.  My husband thought it would be funny to let the dog go in the bedroom after he had done his business outside.  Instead of trying to wake me up, the little black dog went exploring in the bedroom.  With his mouth!

I'm not running away in the snow, nope.

Grom also decided to suck at training as well.  When we asked him to bark, he would just sniff around on the ground.  Aaron got him to bark when he leaned over the mutt and asked him excitedly.  No go, the dog already knows the command and has barked in response to it in all situations.  This should be easy!

I grabbed the dog and brought him back again for a second try.  This time he did a wonderful job of acting deaf.  Back in the crate!  No fun for you this morning doggy.

The evening play session went much better.  I suppose being stuck at home alone all day does that for you.  The evening session was just play, and boy did he!  The little dog even brought back the toy for even more tugging after winning it.  Once, he even ran back to me and jumped up on me until I grabbed the toy in his mouth.  What an improvement from a week ago.  No more keep away, right Grom?

It might be frozen, but it’s not a toy!

Posted in dog training, life with a working dog, Search and Rescue with tags , , , , on February 17, 2010 by rattlerjen

Dogs love to play with new things.

When you are a high drive working dog, everything is on the list.  Take for example, something frozen and shaped to fit perfectly in the mouth.  It is really fun to bat around with your paws like a cat.  Best of all it smells disgusting.  That’s right folks, the perfect toy of the day is a nice big frozen dog turd!

Even in two feet of snow, poo patrol has got to go on.  Get your trash bags and scoopers out lest your dog find a new “toy” in your yard.

In further news, we had a bit of a backslide.  Either the dog has reached a plateau or he never really knew what we wanted in the first place.  Indication work bombed tonight.  First go at it, he ran up to me and didn’t bark.  Just looked at me and started sniffing around. It may have been perhaps due to the fact I was not directly facing him when I asked for the bark. I ignored him to give him a chance to figure out why we were just standing there.  No go. I took him back to Aaron and tried again from 15 feet away facing him.

I asked for his bark again.  He ran to me, stopped, and looked around.  I waited and he finally gave me a few good barks.  The pup went back to Aaron at a full run and flew threw the air to get the tug.  Yay!

dog in snow digging

Not that!

I don’t believe a pause is necessarily a bad thing.

It can mean that the dog has noticed something has changed and is confused or distracted by it.  When training, you must always take in account the three D’s.  Distance, duration, and distraction. You must practice a behavior while changing only one of the three D’s at a time until he does his behavior reliably with that one change.  Then change a different D and so on.  You will then have a dog that will do a behavior in any situation for any length of time.

It could also possibly mean that the dog is bored or is trying to figure out what in the world we want from him.

The best thing to do is back up a step or two in the training process.  Go back to doing something that the dog could do reliably for a while.  For us, this means that Grom just barks for the toy.  When he does this reliably a few training sessions, we can work our way back up to the step the dog was having trouble with.

Always think, strong foundation.  After a plateau or “setback” a dog with often rapidly improve 🙂

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