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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Handstands and Unseen Cues.

Damn you weather.

Well, severe weather that is.

I was so proud I was still getting tomatoes in late Nov. That is until the wind ripped the giant trellis loose and THREW it across the yard...ripping out most of the plant with it. Little unripened green tomatoes littered the ground like innocent victims. I left them hoping an animal would come along and eat them...but being as the only mammals that like to hang around are the ones I discourage I ended up going outside and being once again reminded of the windy murder..

For the most part tho, I've conquered the severe winds, or at least, learned not to panic when I see a tree defoliated in two days by having its leaves ripped off 2-3 months too soon. I now know the tree isn't dead, it will come will come back. Don't panic.

the frost tho. Is my newest foe to conquer. Its unpredictable. So far. Unless I turn on my computer and go look at the weather and see the frost warning. I am blissfully ignorant until I walk outside in the morning and see it...the little ice crystals of doom on my "lawn". Then I know...I survey the yard to find the victims. Last year, it was agaves mostly. I also had a scrub that hadn't hardened off yet (still green, not bark) that got fried...this year however, since I've moved slowly away from ornamentals, and more towards food, my squash was fried. In fact, it was mush. Except for the little baby squash that was too small to harvest, stuck to the dead plant like a pathetic mammal trying to nurse from a dead mom (which is REALLY sad if you ever see that...)

enough of my bitching tho. I am not a complainer, at least I tell myself that. Its most me just stewing about what cues I haven't picked up on yet to warn me of things...It will come tho. I know it.

Chili is working on his handstand. With massive progress. We had worked on this off and on for months now...and that should be a clue...when I work on som'thing "off and on" that means generally I am doing som'thing wrong. Chili is sharp, and I am not a bad trainer, so when it takes longer than a session or two to teach som'thing...the method is off and its time to stop and figure out what to do different.

This behavior tho. I knew involved alot of muscle memory and strength. Time essentially. This trick would take time. Don't push the dog too far to fast, or you'll hurt his cute little body.

I suppose this made sense for a while, but as was hit a wall and got stuck, I think I used it as an excuse for too long. I needed to know a time frame, som'thing to compare his progress to and finally I found it.

Another trainer posted a montage of videos, here was a dog that was a blank slate, and six week or so in, she taught him 10ish tricks. Complex ones at that. Including, the holy grail, the walking handstand.

Now I had my timeframe. Nothing like seeing stuff like that to either

A. Motivate the hell out of you
B. Make you feel useless as a trainer

Luckily, I am in the "A" generally. I have a large drive to be like the people I idolize, and in general, an now that I know the problem is ME. I now could figure out WTF I was doing wrong

I took the clicker adage to heart and went back a step. Then from that step, I broke it down into micro steps between it and the place we got stuck. Som'thing in there was incomplete. My criteria wrong, my click late, som'thing.

Within 5 mins of changing my criteria he was doing brief handstands against his platform.

Within 5 more mins, he could do it with minimal help, as in i could remove the platform and he could get into position against a bare wall

watching a dog levitate for a tenth of a second on his own is mindnumbingly exciting. I think I screamed at him. Which fortunately he likes.

the first ten of so handstands were accidents. As in, he'd do them in an attempt to balance, and would loose his footing on the books/wall. Now the criteria is intentional foot removal from the foot at a time. So far its going well...and now, our biggest enemy is fatigue.

I am reaching a point where I feel I can teach most anything...confidence swells in me.

And now, the anxiety begins, because the next step in the growth. Is taking your knowlege and giving it to others...which is new to me...and som'thing I am going to be dipping my toes into.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Catgasms and Pecking orders.

While I haven't trained other species as thoroughly as dogs, I do have more experience than the average bear, with more species than most people would ever hope to own. :)

One thing I learned, early on, with the parrots, was to ignore biting, and praise the good things. With parrots, offering a treat for "good things" didn't even cross my mind, but yet they learned all sorts of words and behaviors, didn't bite me, all using just my happy voice.

They learned nearly nothing from the other keepers, and in fact would bite them quite regularly. Som'thing I found amusing, if it weren't for the other keepers smacking the birds across the head when it happened.

now for anedote's...

one thing I have noticed in other species is retention. The seem to remember the behavior the next session better than dogs. If I don't cue the behavior again, for YEARS the behavior still gets offered, perfectly, every time the animal wants som'thing. Its almost like the behavior is more resilient to extinction. They also seem to have greater understanding between reps, with in "ah ha, I see where you are going with this" vs alot of dogs don't really know where you are going, but are following your directions, rather then skipping steps...once again, purely anecdotal.

Manipulation. While dogs do this also, the other species seem to be very, very quick to put that behavior into their repertoire of other, natural behaviors. Its like they instantly realize they now have a new tool or skill for getting what they want. The dogs figure out this also, but its not as quick, and seems to generalize slower. Teach a dog to sit up for a treat in the living room, a then move into another room and eat dinner. The dog, will likely not understand that he can use that behavior to manipulate the situation to earn a different reinforcer, right away.

Take a cat and teach it "sit up". The cat will, take that behavior and immediately begin to implement it in every situation it sees you have som'thign it wants. Theres no reteaching it in multiple places, contexts. They just get it. Its like they immediately generalize behaviors, granted heavy distraction would likely be an exception.

Buffy, my chicken, was taught to peck me (gently) on cue. She quickly learned that this is the bird equivalent of shouting "HEY YOU" at me. If I ignore her, she will very deliberately peck me for attention. But whats interesting, is she will peck me, then once I look at her (I try to ignore this, but being human...well, oh well) she then offers ANOTHER behavior. Shes literally cueing a "watch me", and oh boy am I trained.

The biggest hitch so far I have found in clicker training cats, is a phenomenon, I affectionately call the "catgasm".

Get about ten reps in, clicker training a cat, and then the cat has a moment of "OH EM GEE we are TRAINING!!!!!' and then the cat rolls around uncontrollably, purring as loud as possible, obviously in pure bliss...but also in their own world. You cannot train during a catgasm, you should not pet (will make the bliss worse) you cannot bribe or feed also I have just have to wait it out. If you are lucky, you can get through the session without a relapse. Generally tho, you will have 1-2 catgasms per training session.

Annoying as these are, if you are in a hurry, I have learned som'thing very important. In a world full of dogs and dog training, we neglect to see how truely happy clicker training makes our subjects. For a dog that is happy all the time, its hard to dissect the emotions and see how much of the "happy" is because the dog likes training, and how much is the dog just a happy dopey dog.

Other species, however have greater happy/indifferent contrasts, so its really plain as day, easy to see that this way of training, builds strong bonds and associations :)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I recently heard the hard numbers, for how much food is wasted in the US. Its 40-50%.

Take that in a moment. We throw half our food away.

Numbers for the rest of the world is similar, its not just the wastefull Americans this time. We all suck at this apparently.

I have always grown plants, I remember being 7 years old digging up seedlings and transplanting them into pots, watering my morning glories and fussing over sunflowers (in pots that never got very big).

The past five years or so tho, I have begun to really put this deep seated urge to use. First growing indoor and outdoor potted plants...learning to remember to move, clean, water, prune them etc. Since this is som'thing you must teach yourself to remember. Plants don't cry when they are hungry, so its easy to forget them.

second, once we are in the house, I forayed into "drought tolerant". The desert scaped yard in my head, was beautiful. But it was not to be.

I found out, after I bought every succelent and cacti known to man, lowes and homedepot. That almost everything available was cacti from high elevations/mild climates...or succulents that were meant to grow under the shade of other, larger plants. Or wanted no rain in the winter, and monsoon rain in the summer, and would die if not carefully managed.

Every single one of these plants, pretty much had a heart attack if I didn't water daily, and if placed in the sun, they would burn. Ever seen a cacti burn? Its really depressing.

So in the end, the only landscaping I could do with succulents where with the ones they use on the freeway embankments, whose cuttings I stole from behind a autoparts place that backed up to an offramp. All the expensive and rare plants were useless.

So back to the drawing board. More plants, and more research later, I found the best thing for me to do, was to drive around and see what species were clinging to life in my neighbors yards. Talk about depressing...

Each house has basically no yard, or a yard of weeds, with one or two trees or shrubs clinging to life despite being completely ignored.

So what I found in my "research" is that the following plants survive here with little to no care.

Southern magnolia
Jade plants
cape honeysuckle

and thats pretty much it.

Well armed with my new knowlege, I lansdscaped my little heart out, still lost a few to the wind, but for the most part, all is green.

So then I started learning about permaculture. Now I came to the realization, that I really should be growing USEFUL things on my land. Granted the flowers make great food and habitat for birds/insects, which was a goal...but now I really need to make use of things, or else suffer the guilt.

So began my foray into "farming".

Let me tell you now. There must be som' pretty savy people out there, or som' really magical chemicals, or else we'd have nothign to eat. This. Shit. is. hard.

Iam learning. Trial and error, research. I had to learn how to mulch, mulch correctly, how to prune/water correctly. How to plant/place trees. Times of year to grow veggies...bugs...rain...disease...placement...wind AAAAAA!!!!

Each year gets easier, but of course, each year, I try and take on som'thing new, or som'thing more than I should, so there is always a project to fail. I have finally come to grips with the fact that my soil is absolutely useless, and I will have to buy/make all my soil for the whole property.

I guess my point is, I now see why no one does this. Its hard on the body/mind/soul. But in the same note. We really DO need to ALL do this. We are running out of water/space/peace of mind. And instead of creating food and habitat, we are watering turf, and poisoning bugs, and fertilizing our roses. I can't remember the last time I used chemicals or fertilizer. That was a great feeling, knowing my yard was so healthy that everything was balancing. Seeing the birds and insects and reptiles that were NONEXISTANT three years ago makes me beam.

This is the right path, I know it. I just wish more people were on it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thinking, or feeling?

Forget the idea of alpha and dominance, that I don't buy into anyway...but the idea of dogs living in "packs" also makes me want to peel off my eyelids every time som'one uses it to explain behavior.

My dogs live together, they eat together, they hang out. They play, they share things, they chase each other. What a lovely little pack right?

Most people see a group of dogs in a home and think that, wow look they formed a pack.

Here's the thing.... My house has doors. My yard has a fence. My dogs hang out because they have too. Not because they want to. They get along because I've intro'd them correctly, given them each enough space they don't feel crunched and I've trained them to put up with, or even like, through countercondtioning, the other dogs habits they find annoying.

The dogs didn't "form" anything. I went out, acquired them, and now force them to live together. Kinda a new perspective on animal ownership eh?

if I left my gate open, and I wasn't here. They would wander off. I can't really say who would stick around, and who would leave, but with so many smells and things to do, I can say staying nearby is pretty boring. I imagine Tippy going the furthest, she gets so intense when she finds a scent.

Ironically, Tippy is the most attached to us, IMO. Yet, she'd be the first to bail.

I don't really envision them staying together either...maybe run down the same road until a split, and then, each engrossed in their own interest, part ways.

There are ALOT of stray, and dare I say feral even, dogs here. I see them alone, I see them in groups...BUT I always see them in DIFFERENT groups, or I see group members ALONE and then back again, but with a different group. They don't stay together. I've seen it with my own eyes. I don't need to travel to Romania, or to the Mexicans dumps. Its happening here. Right here in Socal.

Iam not a leader. Iam a resource. Just like a stray learns a house will provide food, since my dogs do not free roam, they have learned I provide food. Or attention, or access to things, etc. The dogs stay with me, not because they respect me as a pack leader. But because they need me, on a physical, or emotional level to survive.

Perhaps its the logical side of me that can say that, and not feel any ill will towards the dogs, and can not feel that cheapens the relationship we have. Truth is truth tho, truth doesn't not cheapen anything.

I tend to see things in a mechanical way, and not romanticize everything. Pack leader is a romantic title. Unfortunately, while I have no problem with romantic notions, in and of themselves...the over romanticising of ideas such as this one, can be to the detriment of our beloved dogs.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who is training who?

There is a great chapter in Karen Pryors book Lads before the Wind where she talks about animals that have mastered the system of communication your using, and then turn in around on you and use it to communicate with YOU.

She then gives several examples, that, when you think about it, kinda makes the hair on your neck stand up. At least to me anyway. Its one thing for you, as a trainer to communicate clearly to your animal, its one thing for an animal, to communicate with you, using its normal behavior. Its totally another, and downright spooky when the animal uses YOUR method of communication, to communicate with you.

We were at the park the other day, Emma, myself and the spicy one. Both dogs are fantastic off leash, and have speedy recalls, even with the dog park in the background and rabbits everywhere.

Because of this trust, I do let the dogs get a decent distance away before I recall them. 120ish feet apparently. Interestingly enough, I had to google to figure out how wide a soccer field is...but little tan frankendogs know, without the computer.

Chili has a fasinating new behavior. He will run out, what I now know is 120ft more or less. He will stop. Turn to face me and sit.

Then he waits.

This behavior first appeared almost a year ago, but I shrugged it off. Now it is so frequent Iam 100% positive this is intentional.

Turns out, in training the recall, I would call the dogs back at varying distances. But I would ALWAYS recall them when they got so far away they were out of my comfort zone. I wasn't really noting distance, I was just going off gut feeling "eeeeh they are getting too far away, better call 'em back".

So now...Chili is INTENTIONALLY going to the edge of my comfort zone and turning around and WAITING for me to recall him. I can walk up to him, I can talk to him (usually I laugh at him or ask him wtf hes doing)...but if I don't give the recall cue, his butt is firmly glued to the grass.

So hes now training ME. Hes learned he can make me call him, which leads to treats. An unintentional behavior chain (unintentional, on my part, Iam sure VERY intentional on his)

He also has begun to bring me objects he can't seem to figure out or open. Or, since he was a puppy, bring me objects that shouldn't be on the floor. Look mom, I found a pen, look mom I found this piece of trash...etc...

He got a Kong stuck on his mouth once, he went to Kevin and asked him for help.

Smart little snot.

The other "whos training who" comes from mimicry. Som'thing dogs are not supposed to do well. Iam sure it falls into "social learning". Though I haven't read much on the subject.

I taught Kiwi to push closed doors open with her face. Critter already did this, but the other three would not even try. If the door was ajar, they would try, but only if it was open enough that they barely had to bump it to get through.

What I taught Kiwi was, I turn the knob but the door stays closed. Kinda like the door is off just enough it can't lock..but visually looks 100% shut.

She caught onto this quick, and I soon put "push" on cue.

Within three days. Emma, Chili and Tippy learned this behavior. Unless som'thing magical happened, they MUST have learned this through observation. Tippy was first, which did not shock me, as I watched her learn how to use a buster cube from observing Chili. No trial and error. Just literally watched him, and then did it. All this after that cube sat, full of food, unused for about a year.

The dogs can learn from each other...perhaps this is why each new rescue gets easier and easier to acclimate. Fascinating!!

Anyway, Iam curious as to what the future will bring. I also can't wait for the next "ah you little shit" moment where I realize Chili is training me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The dragons are biting.

If it has a bites.

Dogs bite, cats bite, bite...HUMANS bite...ask any cop or preschool teacher...

I get this "does it bite?" question ALOT. I always say that if it has a mouth it can bite you...If its som'thing that tends to be docile, I say "these tend not to bite". I can not remember a time in recent years where I've told som'one an animal was not going to bite them, in an absolute :never: way.

I find myself, more and more pondering peoples motivations behind pets. I mean, I was one of them, so I can understand it on that level, but I have "moved on" in many in, I like to have animals, but the need to go out and actively acquire new ones is a need that has left me for the most part.

I once was a consumer. Iam still, technically a producer. Even though I have for the most part shunned my former breeding operations, I still produce animals professionally, and due to my "career" assist novices in producing animals. Helping the novices, tends to produce more ill feelings than me producing my own animals, due to the sheer number of people who have bad motivators...and then here Iam, being the one having to deal with aggressive offspring from aggressive parents, having to baby non feeder snakes, which can from parents that were likely non feeders, and having to find homes for, or euthanize animals born with birth defects, when their producers reject responsibility for them

Ah, to cull or not to cull. Iam all for culling, in the spay neuter sense. As in, this dog is not perfect, lets bar it from breeding, but spare its life, and find it a home. But in reptiles, its not so easy. I can't spay/neuter a bearded dragon, and no matter how well I screen people, every year, som' tool decides that that kinked tail shouldn't stop lizzy from having babies. Or the School teacher, that year after year, produced tiny, pathetic, weakling bearded dragons, that grew slowly, the great majority of them with birth defects, and me doing everything, from reasoning, to pleading with her, not to pair the parents anymore. Every year, I'd find her eggs in the incubator, until finally, exhasted, as female beardeds become from egg laying, the mother of the weaklings passed on.

And there in lies the other evil. Egg laying. I'd say 90+% of the female beardeds I've known have died in egg laying. They get old, they get thin and their bodies just can't push them out. Its inevitable. Those that don't die in egg laying, die of accidents, or being euthanized when disease strikes their aging bodies. Males die generally of kidney failure or obesity, tho they do get to live twice as long as the girls do.

I used to say I've been bitten by beardeds twice. I remember both was a very skittish animal that a person saved from a classroom where the kids were caugh torturing it. It nailed me as I tried to examine it for health. It was scared out of its mind.

The second animal, was an animal that belonged to a customer, and he felt the need to retell you its pedigree every time they brought it into the store (which was often). Reminds me of the people who approach you with their dog and blurt out "shes a champion such and such, when you hadn't even noticed the animal yet.....Of course pedigrees in bearded dragons for the most part are simply pretty animals bred to pretty animals, selected for color or pattern mutations. Anyway, despite its pedigree, it was a rather mediore looking animal, and it nailed me as I held up a nail clipper. It gave no signals, it just bit me, let go and was fine. The top of my finger was not fine

but these two stories, while I say they are the only ones, really aren't. I get bitten by babies almost daily now...som'thing I couldn't have said 6 years ago. Baby beardeds seem to be becoming more and more aggressive as the years pass, I have also noticed an increase in flightly skittish animals. Beardeds so skittish, they are almost impossible to handle, and they take quite a bit of forced interactions to 'grow out of it".

I remember a specific group of leatherbacks imported from europe. I have never dealt with beardeds that were so aggressive at a juvenile age. Absolutely untrustworthy and "evil" as we called them. They weren't a hard sell tho, they were a rare morph, and no doubt every last one of them went on to reproduce.

I have seen birth defects increase, with a big peak around 2008, I see fewer today, but I think thats due to most of the novices no longer breeding, and have given away their adults.

Thats the other thing...where are all these dragons going? This year and last, people in mass gave up their pets. It was insane. It was like I missed the "everyone relinquish anything alive" memo. People poured in wanting to give up the animals they swore were family members...many people saying the reason was the animals babies could no longer fund the hobby...ironic since the majority of people who buy a bearded dragon or two are not thinking about breeding for money...yet, once they have, and the money flow stops, the animals are worthless to them

Ironically, the pet, the exotic pet, that makes people different, is slowly going the way of the poorly bred purebred dog.

I see many more bites in my future.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Things I learned this month

Emma had this photo taken at the dog park and uploaded to facebook, not by me, and I stumbled across it...I gather those feet belong to som' poor smuck being suckered into tossing that ball.

Jigantor will do anything for a cherry tomato. Like, anything. Its fish crack, she about jumped out of the tank at the sight of one

You can teach the gourami to spin in both directions on cue in less time that you can teach it to the crazy pomeranian.

The old cats like the new cat, whether they admit it or not

I really really want to build lego but don't ever seem too.

temps over 104 will fry your corn plants but not your tomatos *shrug*

The Critter can learn to sit, leave it, and focus, but can't seem to figure out stay to save her life.

I really need to start training other peoples dogs on the side, but Iam a chicken shit.

Kiwis allergies turned out to be a yeast infection

Critter is a tick factory, her new name is "The Tick"

I feel more and more unburdened as I sell off the last of the snakes

Iam really lucky to have Kev around. Even if hes not around

My neighbor refered to my side yard as "a jungle" so my mission is almost complete

How to be nicer to customers at work

the handgun gets heavy after about twenty minutes

Chickens think fig beetles are tasty

The new cat is a circus performer

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It seems a waste...

to live in California and not take advantage of it.

I mean, Hollywood, is like a 40 min drive from here. When you grow up here, you forget that.

I have been thinking more and more about that. Especially watching Jesse and jasmine get those commercial deals...aside from the walking handstand...there's not much there I haven't taught already, or couldn't teach.

Not to say theres not alot there, there is. I think that came out wrong. :p

So I sit back and think about why I think about this...I guess I over analyze everything...thinking about why I think what I think...

I have ZERO desire to be famous. Honestly. I do want recognition occasionally, but for the most part Iam content with no one knowing who the heck Iam. Part of the reason I don't go into training profesionally...

I think alot about animal wrangling and movie animal training. That, to me, is perfect...firstly, I have the experience with name it, from parrots to gators, hedgehogs to rattlers...I can handle it... don't have to deal with the public...sure you have clients...but you are, I imagine, for the most part, not dealing with the level of stupid I see at the shop daily.

I have been watching youtube vids of the late show (tonight show? I dunno) with stupid pet tricks...and think...god Chili could be on that show...

I guess I have no real point in this entry...just that maybe I'll get brave and you'll see Chili up in lights one day...hopefully with everyone completely ignoring me.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Peppers can dance just fine...

their owner however has two left feet and a sore back....

A very sore back. I went yesterday to a Canine Freestyle seminar...teaching routine ideas...som'thing I very much needed since Iam not very good as coming up with my own stuff unless a gun is to my head. I need to see it, decide I like it, and then I can teach it.

I dont' just like training... the finished result, but the process too, as I know the dogs like the process, but I do suffer from motivation problems. The human side of me wants to go "look! Look what I did!" but then the other human side of me thinks that no one genuinely cares and is humoring me.

I don't really even like working the dogs in public around non dog people, even if the comments aren't rude, if the comments are wrong, they bother me. A guy in petco yesterday saw me working Chili outside (just sits and downs) and then when he walked by Chili pulled towards him to sniff him. I didn't say or do anything to stop him except hold the leash and the guy made a comment about how he'll get there and learn not to pull....or something to that effect...I guess he thought I was training him not to pull???? Either way it was a wtf moment and I thought, really thought about how unperceptive the public is at the obvious.

Anyway, back to the seminar...there were five dogs, plus the trainers dogs and everyone, for the most part was very well behaved. Chili had a couple of TINY outbursts, mostly confined to dogs outside the fence and once or twice to the husky that despite instructions not to, kept wandering into our space.

He took all the tasks in stride and was like "um, ok more?" and there were a few moments where I lost him to the grass sniffing and the fact the trainers had better treats than me...

That said, he also did a hoop jump no problem despite never having seen one before, and doing a down stay and not getting upset for long periods of time (new also). His spin and turn for whatever reason fell apart but I can get that back easy.

So its a bit harder to "dance" with your dog that I thought, the fact he was a small dog just added to it, and the fact he can't do much jumping added to it..firstly, you feel like a retard dancing in front of people. Secondly, having to dumb down cues in the beginning, meant I had to be hunched over alot to keep him with me. And thirdly, I can't dance very well anyway, adding a dog and a clicker and having to keep moving, keep it interesting is HARD.

Despite feeling like a fool, I got lots of positive feedback. I was, once again encouraged to become a professional myself, which meant alot to me considering the sources.

I got to meet the "famous" (to me anyway) Splash and Tug. Tug is a firecracker, springs in his feet and is just an interesting dog to look at, he reminded me of a mouse (in a cute, good way) as he stared a hole in my head looking for treats. Hes much smaller than I imagined, more Tippy sized (longer legged tho) than the Chili size I imagined.

Splash was intense. Maybe its just a border collie thing, I wouldn't know, I've met three now and two ignored me. But I stood to close and a couple times Splash stopped in mid trick to stand there and look at me. You could tell she was figuring me out. Kinda a "I can see through you" mixed with "hi! Iam Splash". Very cute :) She was also smaller than I imagined , and I told her so, while she stared at me.

Anyway, I felt comfortable tho, I was not worried about som'one spraying Chili in the face while I wasn't looking, wasn't worried about having to explain what a clicker was and how it worked, wasn't worried som'one wouldn't understand his reactivity, wasn't worried I wouldn't fit it. It felt wonderful, Iam still on a high note emotionally today.

Time to go train som' dogs. :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010


no not the book.

Chili had a rather uncharacteristic revelation today whilst at the outdoor mall. It went som'thing like this...

Wait a minute. Wait...wait...all these people...they are here, to see ME.

Truth be told they were not there to see Chili (please don't tell him, he'll be crushed), but this did not stop him from turning into a complete happiness retard.

He developed that whole body butt wiggle you only tend to see in pit bulls and labs and when that wasn't enough to convey his emotions, he got zoomies. Happiness zoomies.

He then ellicted play from me, right in the center of this busy place, hundreds of people, cars, music over loudspeakers, screaming kids, bikes, dogs, you name it.... and my reactive dog tried to play with me.

part of me, when I re read that, knows I should be crying tears of joy, but Iam honestly still in shock...there was a pom twenty feet away barking at him and he was trying to ellict attention from strangers. At night time to boot. Hes afraid of the dark, this is only his second training session in a dark place.

I mean, I knew this training stuff would work. I knew I could convince him things/people aren't scary, that I could teach him to ignore them no matter what, and to tolerate these things.

I never, in a million years thought he'd genuinely LIKE these things because of training...I mean, I knew it could happen, but Chili is so "selective" hes fearful, and when hes not fearful, hes a snob, he doesn't throw himself at anyone but me and Kev, and recently Cheryl. I supposed I have a different problem now...the problem of the OMG I want to meet you! Which is not som'thing I really have much practice in dealing with. I know how, just never thought I'd need it.

Crazy dog, I wish he'd make his mind up already!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Perhaps Dumb dog is not dumb. Perhaps slow human is slow.

I have been.

dun dun dun

training Critter.


I've had this dog for, oh three years now, and shes, well. Slow.

Iam not a very verbal person with my dogs, that is generally an advantage, but in this case perhaps not. I prefer using a mechanical marker for behaviors (ie Clicker) and for Chili I will occasionally use a "yes" but I prefer the clicker honestly. I just don't like talking I guess.

Critter decided long ago she wanted NOTHING to do with this clicker shit. Not for anything or anyone. Not for roast beef, not for chicken. She would run away and pant and shake like a dog on july fourth (ironically, july forth does not bother her)

When she went on antianxiety meds, this reduced a bit, so she no longer had siezures when I clicked, she simply ran as far away as she could and jammed herself in a corner.

This presents many annoying dilemas for me.

One...I can't clicker train her. Obviously. And yes I have tried introducing it at low level barely audible. She freaks.

two...I can no longer just carry a clicker and use it whenever, if I do I risk her being afraid of EVERYTHING

three...she can hear it through TWO DOORS. So That means, having to put her away and train whoever I want in another room. She also still freak out. So I still have to deal with a freaking out dog.

So, lately, I have dabbled in training the dumb one. Her meds have made her functional, so I began to teach her to "touch". This was a task and a half, but she got it. Then she began to offer a "cheating"'ll get 1/2 inch from your hand and pull away. I NEVER reinforced this. I'd just ask for another touch and if she did it again, walked away. YET she continued and still continues to do this.

This really hurts my brain at this point. We have worked on this for MONTHS, and i have NEVER treated her after doing this behavior, but she still, on a regular basis offers it. And then she'll get like five in a row right, so I reinforce...and then she gets stupid again. Each time looking at me expectantly for a treat, fully believing she got it correct.

She also can't seem to, three days in, learn to "go to her mat" on cue. It has been AGONY trying to teach this...she just doesn't get it. She will look like it for like three reps...then it falls apart.

I begin to ponder brain damage possiblities.

then I was reading. Karon pryor talks about a thing one of her porpoises used to do...she'd dart in the gate, then back out again...expecting a fish. This was annoying, and frustrating...but mostly, she could not figure out WTH the dolphin was thinking...i mean, they never reinforced the darting back out, and they reinforced the going in heavily...why the heck was this happening.


Turns out, a split second timing mistake created this. The dolphin has misunderstood and thought he had it right. They corrected the timing mistake and the behavior went away.

Then my lighbulb went on. Maybe Critter wasn't stupid...but maybe my verbal marker was not conditioned with her fact I had been kind of sloppy with it...marking a half momment late because I wasn't "serious" about training this dog. Turns out Critter is the one with the program and Iam the moron. The more I thought about it the more it made sense, I was marking the pulling away form my hand, not the touch, just that half second created a pulling away behavior...she thinks the pulling away is what Iam trying to mark.

Clever dog.

Bad human. Bad.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why Iam done...part 1

why Iam done...

Hiring trainers.

I've had three runs ins with trainers that Iam paying to advise me on my dog...I did attend a seminar, that I adored, but I don't count that..:p

Once upon a time I tried getting Emma into agility. I was confident I could train the whole shebang myself, but didn't want to spend the money on the equipement. Mostly, more than anything I wanted to connect with other "dog people" in the real world, and also a dog trainer, because at that point in my life, I idolized most dog trainers, and had not learned that just because they were positive dog trainers, I may not like their methods.

I could not get into a class due to my sched, so I did the next best thing and hired a well known trainer, to do privates with Em and I at her facility. When I showed her list of acomplishments to people online, they were impressed and jealous that I was going to get to work with som'one so talented.

I personally, very much enjoy researching people before and after I meet them, I read this womans profile on her site, read reviews and studied her picture with her dogs, I felt like I knew her a bit, so that way i'd be more comfortable.

As the day aproached, I was increasingly nervous. I felt more like I was going to be meeting a celebrity than a dog trainer. So then I meet the woman.

She looked NOTHING like her picture, she was also alot older than I anticipated, like THIRTY years older, its not like it was a younger picture either, there was zero resemblance. The tall, thin blonde I thought I was meeting was a short, elderly woman.

Nevertheless I still was polite and told her I was EXTREMELY nervous, so to pardon me. She seemed friendly, but not overly impressed with me or my dog. Just a casual, "Hi lets go back here"

Then it starts, Iam a mental mess and my perfect dog says, "screw this jazz, moms nutty" and all the intense focus is gone. She begins to pull and wander and not bother to check in with me, then it happens.

The flies.

God must hate me, but he bestowed Emmas sworn enemies on us that day. The only thing this ball obsessed dog is more obsessed over, is flies.

The trainer then asks me to run Em through all her behaviors. I struggle to get her attention and I run her quickly through about 4-5 tricks, she does them for me, but immediately goes back to obsessing over the bugs. Iam so nervous at this point, you'd think I was being attacked by a bear.

the trainer acts unamused and says pretty much nothing, she then takes us to the field were she tells me to run Em over these raised planks on the ground (like mini jumps) she gives no instructions really, just do it and reward when you are done.

So I run her over them, she tries to excape briefly and then Iam told in a simplistic monotone voice what I did wrong, and to do it again. So I try to do it again, ommitting my mistakes only to be told again what I did not do right, no tips or hints on HOW not to do those things, just don't do that.

after about three tries and three failures, she takes us out to this tire jump and we take turns calling Em back and forth through it. At about the fifth time through she finally gets a bit of personality and exclaims "oh wow! Shes so operant" which, is dog training slang for a dog that readily OFFERS behaviors. I remember making a face and thinking "no shes not... Are you high?" Em is the least operant dog I know...and calling her back and forth and slapping our hands to prompt her was hardly anything like a dog that offered a tire jump with no promps/cues. I took it as a compliment but wondered how the trainer could get this wrong.

then she decided that we should learn front crosses and rear crosses. I kinda wonder why she had us try so many things in that first fifteen mins, I think she was trying to find som'thing I could function at, as I was still so nervous I was dropping things, stumbling over words and had lost my dogs attention. She kept talking to me in the slow, monotonous, simplistic lingo you use on a 3 year old that you just caught doin' som'thing bad. This did not help, because now I was positive she thought I was a moron.

I could not do the crosses to save my have to run in a huge half circle, watch your dog, click at the right moment, and then throw your reward in the right spot....all this coupled with the fact it was 90 degs that day and the field was small and littered with agility equipement that I was certain I was going to plow into . I could barely run a straight line, let alone do this thing she hadn't explained well. And once again, she pointed out what I did wrong and when I would do it right, she'd say "good" in a simplistic tone, like I was three and she was faking it.

She also, the entire time, kept clicking for me. Which was honestly unneccessary and, in hindsight, insulting. I could see if I was missing things, but the one thing I did maintain, was my awesome timing. I have great timing and did not see any reason for her to click ontop of my click, I wasn't missing clicks.

She then pulled us aside and explained hand targeting over the course of what seemed like 5-10 mintutes...For contrast, you can explain this to an owner and have the dog doing the behavior in under five minutes. She talked slow and simple like I was a caveman who spoke japanese.

So we go home. I feel like a tool, dog learned nothing, iam out thirty bucks.

Second session, week later. This time, Iam less nervous, more like being attacked by a raccoon than a bear. She askes about the "homework" which was the crosses, and I was honest with her, my husband was out of town for four days, it was triple digits all week, I have a full time job and a puppy under six months old, I had not worked on them. I told her this was an exceptional week and I was not a slacker, but I had worked on the other stuff.

She was irritated for a moment, then said nothing and pulled out a mat and explained we were going to train "go to your mat"

Iam at this point, begining to question the heck out of this in my mind. Why are we moving on to more and more exercises without mastering anything? Why are we not staying on the exercises long enough to have success? Why? why? why? WTF.

She then explains to me, we are going to free shape the entire behavior. That means no prompts, no cues, no help, just click the dog for steps toward the right answer.

Finally I speak up. I had told her before that Em does not free shape yet, and that she will only offer her default if not given directions. The trainer disreguarded this and insisted we free shape.

so for twenty minutes I get closer and closer to tears as my poor dog (who is focused this time) stares at me waiting for me to show her wth I want. She never gets it. She eventually gives up and walks away from me.

I tried to help her once, by pointing at the mat and the trainer instantly jumped on me, I was not to help her, and that me helping her was a PROBLEM, the reason she can't do things is I don't allow her to make decisions. This confuses the heck out of me, because first of all, Emma did not have "problems" and I think I know my dog. The only problem at this point is you not letting me help her.

We go home. I cry in the car on the way.

The next day I teach her to go to her mat. Not just that, she lays on it, stays on it, and will go to it from up to ten feet away, sit, then down and stay until released, all in under five minutes. Gee whiz, what problems this dog has :p

I email the trainer and explain what I did, and to question why it was important to her the behavior be shaped in the way she insisted. She ignored my email and instead asked if I could reschedual my next appointment. I fired her.

I guess I did learn tho. Tho the intention was for the dog to learn. Don't click for others (unless they say its ok) don't talk to people like they are vegetables, don't try and train agility in mid july, and don't decide you like som'one before you talk to them. That last one will disapoint you heavily if it doesn't pan out.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Coin tossing

I remember being six years old. I remember kindergarden, and first grade. I can see the classrooms and the chalkboards. I can remember what direction the rooms faced in context to the rest of the building. I can remember the girl who sat a little to the front and side of me, had no fingernails...and that creeped the heck out of me.

I remember my first "nap time". They had us drag out these blue mats and lay them down, and then the teacher commanded us to nap. I remember being confused and like I did for much of my early years in school, I just watched the others and copied them, no questions asked. I laid on my mat.

I remember laying there, and the window over the other kid next to me shoulder. I remember all the kids closing their eyes. I remember thinking they had all done this before and I hadn't. I remember thinking "sleeping? now? Its daytime. Theres no blanket. Um Ok".

So I pretended to nap.

strangely I only remember this first nap experience. Surely we did this daily for over a year, but I only remember this one time. In fact, once I closed my eyes to "fake nap" the memory disapates. I don't recall getting up to put the mat away.

I often think about why I remember what I do. I have really bad memory problems. Both short and long term. I remember images, places and faces, but I dont' remember why. I can see a person and recognize them, but not remember our previous convo. I can remember going to a place with friends, but not which friends went with me.

So we come to the coins.

In first grade they begin to teach you about money. They have these paperboard coin photos you pop out and you can move them around on your desk. I remember them like it was yesterday. The texture, the wieght of them. The way the little preforations left bumps on the edges. I recall them being darker than their real counterparts.

But then I think, why do I remember these things so well? Like the mat and the nap, there was an emotional association that was strong so they imprinted on me. Confusion.

For som' reason I didn't understand the concept of money well at 6. When som'one says "the nickel is five" I had no idea what that meant. My interpretation of this explaination was "the nickel HAS A FIVE ON IT" at least I think thats what I thought...In fact I mostly remember being frustrated at my little paper nickels. Heres why.

My mom.

Yup, you guessed it, my first "blame my mom" post. Long time comming I suppose.

I remember her distinctly being mad and frustrated with me that I couldn't get this easy concept. I vividly remember her behind me at the table, hovering over me, jabbing her finger at the paper coins expressing her displeasure in me because I couldn't get it. I remember som'thing along the lines of "your smart, ugh why can't you get this, you must be messing with me" being said.

I most certainly was not "messing" with her, or being stubborn. Or trying to make her angry. Making her angry scared me at 6. I was trying, but I just wasn't getting it.

I did one day obviously learn to count money. Iam a cashier and a half now and count money so fast it would make your head spin. Som' one else must have taught me, probably my teacher, or another student. I do not for the life of me remember how, when or where I got it. But I still, at 28 can vividly remember failing at it.

I suppose then, confusion creates memories. They can be neutral, or very aversive, I suppose they can be positive also. I try to remember these things when I teach things to people and animals. They learn faster that way.

One must be careful when training sensitive beings. They may remember stuff you don't want them too.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Evolutionary dead end

In Jean Donaldsons book Oh Behave she talks a bit about the idea of "dog moms" and "dog dads" but instead of in a mocking tone like most of popular culture would use the term, she discusses it as is should be, like a real, legitimate phenomena.

Genes want to be eternal. Everything we do has som' root in our genes wanting to exist for another generation. The genes don't necessarily care about the organism, as long as it lives long enough to reproduce, or in som' animals with parental care, long enough to reproduce and raise young until they can fend for themselves.

This is why, if you like babies, you like babies. Your genes are making you do it. You find babies irresistible because millions of years of evolution depends on you liking babies.

Most people do have a gut reaction to baby animals. This is a side effect of liking babies. Many of the trigger, big eyes, funny movement, exaggerated features, are present in other animals, so the brain gets fooled slightly into feeling good about other species. But truly they reserve all the best feelings for their own species.

Well in the "Dog parents" brains. Som'thing even more interesting happens.

The best feelings, and all those parenting hormones, all those innate parenting behaviors are triggered by the wrong species, and generally speaking, not triggered for the correct one.

This is a massive evolutionary misfire, in fact, it is described as a mutation, and seems to be both genetic and random at the same time. Families that have strong bonds to animals tend to have children that are more likely to have the misfire gene, but it does pop up seemingly at random in normal families.

There is also a disorder (which name escapes me) that describes people that identify more with animals than with humans. Likely another evolutionary misfire where instead of parent care triggers being off, its social triggers.

When I was a kid, all my toys were mostly animals. I would carry around teddy bears in diapers and play house like most kids carry around dolls and play house. I did play with dolls this way occasionally, but it was more to gain my mothers approval. Since she was always very negative about me not wanting to play with dolls. Insisting that som'thing was wrong with me and giving me grief about it constantly.

Years later, when I was pregnant. I remember feeling very detachted the whole experience. People kept insisting what I wonderful thing this pregnancy thing was. How awesome babies were and on and on.

I remember feeling a mixture of confusion, fear (mostly about the physical pain to come) and detachtment from the whole idea. After all I never had ever found babies interesting or cute, and I found children absolutely annoying on all levels. I also morally, since a young young age had a great sense of human overpopulation destroying our planet. Nothing was logical about the whole thing.

I did try and subtly express these feelings. God knows I would have been declared mad had I been brutally honest at the time. So I would just slip in a thing or two in a convo to people, testing the waters as to why everyone felt this was the best thing ever.

I was reassured, over and over, by many women, that all my doubts would melt away the second I laid eyes on my new baby. There would be a bond, a spark, an emotional connection like no other. Then I would understand.

Of course similar ideas are preached in books and film, so I thought, perhaps they are right. In fact I was excited with the idea of all my anxiety melting away and having that wonderful moment with my offspring.

When she was born, and they were cleaning her up, I remember waiting for it to happen. I figured, I was tired or som'thing. They handed her to me and I remember, to be brutally honest, thinking "now what?". I also remember staring at her, for almost an hour thinking "now what?" over and over than coming to the relization that nothing was happening. You might as well have handed me a melon wrapped in a blanket, because that would have given me the same amount of emotion.

Squat. Nothing. Nada.

I shrugged it off on being exhasted and drugged. But as the days went by, and the weeks, and then the months, and even years. I knew. It wasn't in me. The spark never came. No magic, no miracle, no nothing.

Now I know, it isn't magic. Its hormones and genes. Babies are not a trigger for those things in me, and no matter how much I hope and wish and want them to be, they aren't and wont be, likely ever. Thus the lack of an emotion when gazing on a child, even my own. Don't get me wrong, I didn't dislike her. I wasn't one of those women who throw their child out the hospital window, I did grow to love her. But Mom of the year I was not.

Fast forward sevenish years.

Chili was about five and a half weeks old. I had rescued him from a kill shelter with the intention of rehoming him when he was well. I did not think I would like a puppy, so It was safe to bring one home, after all puppies are messy, noisy, unrully, hyper...all the things I dislike in dogs. I would do my good thing for him and send him on his way.

As the days past, I realized that all those puppy horror stories were a product of unsavy owners. Me being experienced in training, and having likely read nearly everything available on puppy development and care, was 110% ready to deal with this dog. That coupled with the fact that he housebroke easy, and did not cry when left alone he already had shortened the list of things that puppies normally do wrong.

So as the weeks went on, I became attached to him as I had my other adult dogs.

Then, one day, when he was very young still, I was carrying him from the bathroom to the bedroom. He was about 3ish lbs at the time, and still mostly mangy naked. I had him in my arms close to my face and he was belly up, kicking his legs at me as would become one of his signature move. Then I felt som'thing tangible wash over my skin, like a chill, to the extreme I had to stop in my tracks.

It was the most intense emotion I can remember ever having. It was a mixture of overwhelming attachment and love coupled with a urgent sense of keep this thing safe. It was anxiety and joy wrapped together, it was an intense sence of pride at having this creature in my made the hair on my neck stand up.

It was the spark. And those women were right. It changes everything.

Being a logical person, not an emotional one. This intriques me more than I can explain. I completely understand now that this very real feeling isn't the normal or "correct" one. And that science views it, and people like me as evolutionary dead ends, as mutations with no uses, as genes gone wrong.

To be completely cliche...Its amazing how som'thing so wrong can feel so right.


friggin wierdos

I find it odd that I keep finding myself writing about nutso people.

For the most part, I just want to be left alone. I have a small group of people I really enjoy and everyone else I try and simply stay civil with. I don't want to bother a soul.

apparently that's not how a lot of people function.

They can't be civil, they can't ignore, they can't walk away. And when I try and do those things to them, it makes them come back with a vengeance. I just want to be like...seriously? seriously? We are adults...go pound sand.

The idea of revenge and getting back at people just never has really done anything for me. Sure its a good movie plot...but that's about it. Som'one and I don't get along, my first instinct is to avoid avoid avoid and be as pleasant as I can when I can't avoid. When som'one has wronged me, I form whatever opinion Iam going to form and then I move on. Getting back at them never even crosses my mind.

I can write som'one off my list and never think about them again. Tho I have read that this is yet another aspy trait so the idea of normal people adopting this practice is fantasy I suppose.

I guess me learning to navigate this social world will be a lifetime of learning, and learning to manipulate it to my advantage may be even further off. The only safe option is to block out all new people who could become a potential hazard later, but that still leaves things like going out into public, or things I can't control, like who I work with, and who comes into my work etc.

I do know I haven't had to use my pepper spray yet, so I must be doing som'thing at least half right

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Novelty and heavy objects.

Closing the store on sat and moving the stuff out, sounded, I dunno, not easy, but not dramatic. I figured I'd be a little tired. I didn't figure I'd be mentally and emotionally drained. To the point I actually drank a costco size redbull to stay functional, despite it likely giving me a crash, heart palpatations, and a headache tomorrow.

I cleaned "the" table off today. Mostly. I often wonder how a minimalist like myself, with no qualms about shit canning useless things can acumulate so much crap so quickly. I mean, I don't buy anything really, dog food, a plant or three, maybe, MAYBE a shirt when I ruin one. I think the bullshit is breeding on the table, like a bad bacteria. Similar in strength to the one that made me actually consider lopping my hand off as a viable option.

Speaking of my hand. I actually go a day or two in a row without inspecting it. I used to check the scar daily, I dunno, part of me was worried it might absess again, the other part reveling in the really bitchin' scar I now wear, almost like a ten year old boy would be proud of a scraped knee. I guess the novelty and the fear of my thumb melting off my hand are wearing off. Until I bump it on som'thing that is. Man that smarts.

The neighbors got another dog. At first I saw they kept it inside, and would play with it outside hours a day....while the other dog was still banished to the yard and ignored. Its been about a week now, and the dog now lives outside full time, and is now recieving about as much attention as the first dog. That dogs novelty seems to have worn off faster than my fascination with my hand.

My guess is they could not housebreak it, after all when we moved in, that was the reason they sited for chucking the first dog outside. At least I can see the problem with the first dog. hes unaltered and when my dogs greet him at the fence, he pees on their faces (well tries too) without fail.

So now I have two 24-7 barking dogs outside in earshot. The new dog has the most shrill bark I've heard in recent memory, beating out Chili's loud, fast bark, and Hobo's high pitched sissy bark.

And thats hard to do. :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

I just don't get the dishonesty.

Iam really losing faith in humans.

I mean more than I already have, ya know ;)

If you don't know the answer, just say so. If you need help or guidance, thats ok.

Have people been so shot down for ignorance that they hide any possibility of it, at all costs? I admit Iam guilty of this. When people ask what I view as an overwhelmingly stupid question, or the wrong day, I tend to be short or smartassed with them. Iam working on this, but som' of these questions make you wonder if people were exposed to anything as a kid. Not knowing the difference between a lizard and a turtle, at 40. Is scary.

Maybe its the aspergers talking. One of the traits is we can be very honest people, which is part of the reason we are seen as rude. We are so honest with ourselves that we can't understand the deception of others. We may say things inappropriate, because they are too true. I've had to learn to say nothing instead, because I can't bring myself to lie or small talk my way out of things.

When I was a kid, and a young adult, this got me into a lot of trouble. I trusted people, over and over, blindly, and now I know why, its a character trait in me.

Every time Iam lied to or deceived. Well. I just don't get it. I understand there must be an underlying motivation for it. Its just so unnatural to me that It leaves me confused. I am honest with people I know. I'd just like a bit of that in return. Maybe I should make friends with a bunch of other aspies and we can sit in a room talking AT each other.

Now that would be comedy. But at least it would be genuine.

Btw I love how spellcheck doesn't recognize aspergers. Sign of the times I guess.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

so I did what made sense...I put in a forest.

I recently found an awesome chanel on youtube.

he talked about how he didn't like seeing his neighbors (a post office) so he did what made sense....he planted stuff.

GOBS of stuff. Like an eden. It was jaw dropping.

I hope to do more of what makes sense to me also :)

what about everyone else?

I see it now.

If you want to train with punishment, professionally, you need a Mal, or a German Shepard...or even a lab. I've even seen a pit bull or two.

You want to train using Positive reinforcement, you go and get a border collie, or an Australian Shepard.

If you train with all methods, you get the dog that leans toward whatever side you lean more too.

At least this is my observation. Iam sure I am not the only one noticing this.

the public pays attention. Their dog isn't smart like a BC so it will never learn advanced things...or even basic things...after all the media shoves BC intelligence down our throats.

If you want a dog to "protect" you, get a Shepard...strap an ecollar on it and just start stim'ing the dog.

What I notice is. People tend to emulated the punishment based trainers blindly...without a clue what they are doing. Iam not demonizing ecollars. They have uses. But the idea of getting rid of behaviors that annoy you with the touch of a button, I think has tremendous pull with the public.

I also notice, that people tend to NOT emulate the positive trainers. They feel silly doing it. The figure their dog is dumb since its not a border collie. They figure they didn't start as a puppy so its too late.

I wonder why this is?

Firstly, the ecollar trainers putting collars on 9 week old those sit means sit money grubbers, are always going to be around. We are human. There are people that find having a mindless robot for a pet very reinforcing. I know, I used to be one of them. I see the appeal. It makes me sad that while I snapped out of it. Many people do not, and will not. Ever.

Iam not against ecollars, when used in certain ways. BUT it scares me how the public emulates som'thing they can't possibly understand. It bothers me that these collars are readily available at wall mart next to the collars and cookies. It bothers me that very few punishment based trainers put a disclaimer that says "DONT TRY THIS WITHOUT A PRO" on their videos.

Many positive trainers are great role models. They are encouraging, as they should be. But part of me thinks, that no matter what, people will have the "i can't do those things" because their dog isn't special or smart enough. I think the "I am a professional trainer now I'll go buy a border collie" is very very very cliche. Not wrong, just predictable.

I wish more positive trainers would use odd breeds, or mutts, or rescues to use as demo dogs. For me its much more impressive, and for the public, its much more encouraging...because after all their dog is now more like the trainers dog..."ordinary".

I know my dogs can do those fancy things, but it took three years of living and breathing this stuff to really believe it when I say it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Changing methods without changing methods

Silva Trkman has a quote I like

"If I didn’t get him, you would never hear for my name. Everything I know, I owe it to him. Thank you Aiken. Thank you for being such a trouble dog. When people ask what makes me so good, I always tell that if you want to be good, you need a bad dog. So bad, that nobody could help you. That’s when you have to think. And that’s when you learn. Thank you Aiken for making me think."

This is how I feel about Chili. Hes such a bad dog genetically. This is the dog I know, KNOW deep in my heart would have been either beaten or euthanized by now. Hes hair trigger, hes high energy, hes desructive, he eats things, hes reactive to dogs, people and anything that moves, makes noise, or is novel. Hes a piece o' work.

at least he was.

Now, hes becoming less of a mess, and more brilliant. His reactivity is almost nonexistant in many contexts now. He knows more behaviors on cue than the other four dogs combined. He plays appropriately with strange dogs. He communcates fairly, and when the other dog is rude, he is restrained in his responses. He communciates well with us, he figures things out, he follow instructions well.

Hes not perfect, but no dog is. But he has made impressive progress in the year and a half hes existed.

Dogs like Chili, I have seen people say...that positive methods can't help them. Or that positive methods actually MAKE IT WORSE. Or som' will even say, positive methods work on som' dogs, just not others with his problems.

I have a more than decent understanding of behavior and learning theory. Som'thing that the average owner lacks. I was able to put methods into action with the complete understanding of why and how they work, and with realisitic expectations.

And yet, I still had failures. Is it the method? Is it me? Is he one of those mythical dogs that R+ can't help?

While I was able to countercondition him to the point he could be on leash in public. Around emense distraction, we still struggled with barrier aggression in the yard and at the park.

So when he'd take off like a bullet, and aggress...I'd call him back to me and reward. After all, I needed a solid recall if he was going to behave this way. What if he was off leash and did this (never has, but just in case) I knew I was possibly rewarding the reaction, but I figured I'd clean it up later, Oi vey.

So then, many months in, and hundreds of bold and reactions in, I realized I had created a behavior chain, while many dogs may not figure out that the reaction causes the recall that causes the cookie...Chili, true to him, figured it out. I don't know how fast, but Iam sure way faster than I did. He bolted in the backyard, and I didn't really feel Like it that day, so I didn't call him back....he stood at the fence and barked/looked at me....barked/looked at me... and then he became frustrated like he does when hes anticipating a click, and doesn't get one. I said "shit!" to myself.

so then I began to think. Like silva...think damn it think.

So I decided I'd start to call him BEFORE he'd get to the fence and only reward those, that way I was stopping the reaction at a lower level.

For som' reason this seemed to make the behavior worse...long past any chance of it being an extinction burst. In fact he began to blow off the recalls if the item was som'thing particularly good (like bikes, ooooh he hates bikes)

I then thought, about tethering him to me, and rewarding non reactions.

I decided this was very impractical, tho probably my best bet. At this point in my mind I dabbled with the thought of using P+ on this, and just getting rid of the behavior that way. But In the end I decided not to, that that was a cop out, and that positive reinforcement CAN work, I just hadn't thought hard enough yet.

I tried premack for a while, releasing him to chase the trigger as a reward. It seemed to amp him up more, to the point he couldn't focus on my AT ALL. I nixed the idea.

We then introduced som' removal. My first attempt to punish the behavior. When he'd react, we scoop him up and put him inside for a few minutes. This worked VERY well...until he learned in less than five reps of this, that he needed to flee from us while he was reacting, and hes fast. Very fast. A combo of teethering and removal would probably have worked well...but once again, not practical

Then one day, it happened.

He went to the fence, and did not react yet (trigger was far away) and instead of calling him to me, I simply marked him with a yes.

This was a test. I mean, he was over thirty feet away, would he understand he needed to return to me for his reinforcer? In hindsight I know the answer is yes, but I had never marked a dog at a distance.

When I marked him, he came running to me. And after I fed him, another strange thing happened. He waited. He did not immediately try and reingage the trigger.

I released him with an "ok" and then pointed and told him "go see" (his cue to walk away from me) to my amazement he went back to the fence, looked at the trigger in silence, looked at me, and then sat.

I marked and released again. We did a few more reps, and then he decided he was bored with the trigger and wandered off.

We practiced the next day, and the day after...we took the behavior to the dog park, by the entrance gates, and had ZERO outbursts. I was flabbergasted.

so far, so good.

so I guess my point is, I failed, not the methods, and there are many methods within the positive umbrella. I have learned alot from this dog, and I hope he continues to challenge me.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Old dog is old

I was thinking today about Emma, and how good she is.

But yet, I never really talk about her.

Shes reliable. This is the dog I'd take into public and not worry about. This is the dog a mob of kids could pet and she'd be cool with that. The dog I can recall off rabbits when shes in a full run. The good dog. The predicatible, stable dog.

She stalks me from room to room, always wanting to be in my presense, but never, ever is pushy for attention, in fact she never asks for attention at all. Even politely. Unlike Chili who shoves a toy in your lap, or paws at you when hes bored. Or Kiwi who will try and climb in your lap. Em will just wait patiently for you to notice her.

Medically, shes been a dream. I think we have two dentals and a torn dew claw under our belts and thats it. Shes fit, shes sound, shes fast, which is not amazing until you account thats shes also old. Critter who is the other "old dog" has cost us many thousands of dollars in vet care and much stress and grief over her behavior. Em is the old person I hope to be.

Though, this posses a dilema in my mind. If Critter were to die, say tomorrow. I could come to terms with that pretty easy I think. Shes had all the apropriate signals of "hey guys, I can't get around well anymore, oh and I have cancer, and my teeth are fallling out!"

Emma has no such signals. So Until people ask me her age, I kinda don't think about it. But the truth is she is old...she may be as old as Critter, or even older...just no way to know.

When Scooter died, he also gave no "hey guys Iam old" statements. He was here and then he was gone. When the vet told me he was an old man, after I just ran him all week like the five year old dog I thought he was. I began to think I killed my little ol' man. Perhaps I did accidentally.

Anyway, I guess my point is, when Em goes, I fear it will be sudden like Scooter. I also get the sinking feeling that Em will go before Critter, because Critter seems to have a good grip on this life...surviving everything it throws at her.

Em is a good dog. I don't give her enough credit. I hope she knows that.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Winning the doggy lottery

Nothing like a trip to the vet and a trip to the dog park in one day to put things in perspective.

Tippy had a foxtail removed from her snoz today. Waaaay up high in there. Thing was huge, I love how the vet gleefully brought it to me on hemostats while I sat in the waiting room. He also gleefully came to show me how Tippy not only has no eardrum in her left ear, but no ear canal either. Now that two vets in a row confirm she can't hear squat in that ear, I can stop wondering if shes ignoring recalls, since I know her non response has a innocent reason now.

She was xrayed and yet again another stumped vet. Her odd walk still remains a speculation. We did rule a few things out, which is good, and we did learn that her legs are mildly malformed. At this point in my mind, Iam leaning towards a congenital defect.

Chili, Emma and I blew off chores and went to the dog park where the circus music was moderately loud today. There was the guy who anounced over and over that he was going to breed his two JRT, and that the three month old breeder to be was "eager to go!" since he was already mounting her...he then went on to talk about how he only buys the cheapest dog food for them at 47cents a can. I wasn't in the mood so I finally just walked away.

Then there was the terrified dog being bullied by a boxer. The dog would give every available signal to the boxer that it was uninterested, and frightened. The boxer, unfortuately, true to my many experiences with them, continued to treat the frightened dog like a toy. It ran screaming to its owner several times, trying to hide behind him. The owners response....say the dogs name in an irritated tone, then yell 'stop it" all while smacking his dog on the face.

This went on for over twenty minutes. Occasionally the guy would shout to his wife "maybe we should go"... but never bothered to actually "go". I wanted to shake him.

Meanwhile, Em, the spicy one, and I are in the small dog park alone. We watch this drama unfold and I lean over and tell Chili how lucky he is I snapped him up, and not som'one else. He thanked me by bringing me a disected foam ball and digging up som' grass.

We got lots of practice for our reactivity. And he did stellar. Not one outburst. I found that throwing treats at him, rather than have him run back to me, worked pretty well. I have also started simply marking him going up to the dog, and having him run back for the reward. This is different than the old method, of calling him to me, and then marking and rewarding, and I like the new methods results better.

Either way, there will not be a shouting of names and smacking of heads. Lucky dogs .

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Frankendog's Cah nee

Chili loves him som' jumps. I mean, he was okey dokey with them at in, "well, I'll get a treat, so sure"...but as time has gone on, hes gotten really into it. Like I imagine the talented agility dogs do, where the behavior itself is a reward, and a behavior that is self rewarding, its a holy grail if its som'thing you want and can control.

We had been working on me sending him to the jumps...basically I'd stand back and give him a signal to run AWAY from me, and over the hand target or lure...just him understanding English like usual.

He got it. So well that I started asking him to stop mid run back to me (completely new) and he got that never ceases to amaze me how important foundation behaviors are. Sure I could have taught him all these things, independently...but what we have is more like me giving him instructions for a new task, and he does it. Instead of having to shape and lure everything like I do the other dogs.

So, just as the twinkle of a great agility dog gets in my eye. Chili begins to "skip" on and off for a few days. I knew right away what it was, and I knew getting a chi mix that it could and would likely happen. I was in in denial for about a full day and then I came to my senses....So off to the vet we go.

Luxating Patella, on the left side. Grade two. Not surgery worthy yet, but will be one day. To quote the vet "his conformation is crap". So much for that show dog career also :p

He is also "raked"?? Which Iam told means his back end is up too high and it puts all his weight on his bowlegged front legs. He could pass for a drag car.

So the jumps have been unused for a few weeks now while I mentally try and cope with this. He can still use them, just not often, and forget being an agility dog on any level besides playing in the backyard. I worry how Iam going to keep a dog that goes 100mph all day everyday from over exercising... I worry about him having surgery....I worry about him being in pain one day.

We joke about his little Cahneez (knees). Som'times I think I laugh so I don't cry.

facebook. Ahem.

I remember myspace. I was into it. Really into it.

Heck, I met my husband there. It mattered to me.

That said, I got over it. It was awesome, then it was boring, And on top of being boring, it was really easy for all my past stalkers to crawl out from under rocks and find me, not to mention the ex con I pissed on once with a bulletin I posted that he decided offended him.

So now there's facebook, and myspace has sort of been peer pressured into a facebook like mold. Its kinda sick really. I liked the old layout, and now myspace is smoking cigarettes and wearing the coolest clothes with its new crowd o' friends.

My friend made me a facebook page. For a long time I ignored it, since I found it impossible to use, then I finally figured stuff out and posted here and there, a photo or two, a comment or two.

And then, true to me, I noticed the flaws.

Almost every single post was in two catagories....

Shit I don't care about

people bitching and complaining about their day.

So, I guess my point is, I dont' get the fascination, unless you are trying to hook up with som'one. Or you are addicted to farmville. But that's a whole 'nother can o' worms.