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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