Monday, September 7, 2009

Enzo and the Vacuum: It's Yer Choice

I haven't had a chance to blog about my great experience at Susan Garrett's puppy camp yet or any of my experiences with Enzo. Life's been a bit nuts lately with teaching agility, coming up with class curriculum, competition to Q for nationals, visiting family, and work to pay for it all!

I think I'll talk about some of the things I learned at camp through the use of some examples. Enzo, being a respectable border collie, is quite reactive to things that move fast. This, unfortunately, includes normal everyday items like the vacuum cleaner and brooms. Susan had mentioned at camp that she picks her battles and the vacuum cleaner was not one she thought was important enough to take on. However, since I have 5 dogs and, therefore, an inordinate need to vacuum and sweep several times a week, this was an obsession that I was going to need to deal with sooner than later. Before camp, my thoughts would have been to wait for the attack and then correct the puppy with a time out or by yelling at him. However, at camp we learned the Its-Yer-Choice game which I have been playing daily with the little guy. I decided to use this as my plan of attack on the overcoming the vacuum obsession.

The Its-Yer-Choice game begins with a fistful of cookies. The fist remains closed until the puppy backs off, which causes the fist to open. Any movement forward causes the fist to close again. If the puppy chooses to remain sitting, cookies are delivered to the puppy. So the choice is to attempt to steal the cookies or remain sitting politely. The puppy quickly learns that sitting politely gets rewarded.

So, in the case of the vacuum (or the broom), the puppy has two choices, attack or not to attack. One of these behaviors gets rewarded, guess which one. I began with a pocket full of his kibble that was his lunch. As the vacuum began to move, the puppy went in for the kill. This behavior stopped the movement, play over. Once the puppy backed up, I moved the vacuum slowly. If he chose not to attack, he got a treat. If he moved in and barked or attacked, no cookie, movement stops. It should be noted that I did not treat directly after an attempted attack and withdrawal. I didn't want to reinforce that behavior. Only sitting politely for an entire stroke of the vacuum earns a reward. It only took about 5 minutes of this game to get him to choose that it was more rewarding to not attack the vacuum and sit idly by my side while that evil monster moved mysteriously back and forth across the hardwood floors. It took about twice as long to finish vacuuming my kitchen, but it was well worth it. I will most likely need to continue this behavior modification for some time. But it was an excellent way for Enzo to eat his lunch and learn a great lesson in self control, which will become hugely useful in his future agility career.

I have a feeling that self control will be the lesson of the day in just about everything I do with this puppy. He's an awesome little dog, but quite challenging. He's learning to make the right choices though, day by day. One of the new things I learned at puppy camp was that true learning can't really occur unless there's a choice to be made. So, we're focusing on allowing Enzo to make the right choices, and it begins everyday with the Its Yer Choice game. I recommend it highly for every pooch out there. I'm teaching Gromit and Quila too, since they're spoiled rotten pooches and neither of them know how to make a choice. I've allowed Quila to think that she can do anything, mostly because she's a golden and her poor choices are annoying, but usually not dangerous. Gromit just gets away with anything 'cause she's cute. Unfortunately Gromit has had 8 yrs of practicing thievery, so it'll be tough to change that, but I'll work on it. Quila is adaptable enough to understand exactly what we're doing and is catching on quite quickly. We'll have a happy house in no time :0)

Update: I wrote this post last week. Today when I vacuumed, I had Enzo in his kennel after playing and he was sound asleep. I was able to vacuum right next to him and he woke up, but just laid there without reacting at all. Later, he followed me into the bathroom and was able to sit there while I vacuumed and didn't try to attack it at all. Cool!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Introducing Enzo: Grand Oakes What a Rush!

This is Enzo. He's the handsome boy of Four and Speed from Julie Oakes at Grand Oakes Farms. I'm pretty sure we've decided on this name. What do you think? Leave me a comment. I'll take suggestions. Enzo Ferrari was the founder of Ferrari and Enzo is also one of the Ferrari models.

Enzo had a great first couple of days getting to know his new pack, all of whom are quite accepting of him, even the old grouchy dogs, Kimba and Kona. The youngsters, Quila and Gromit, are having fun playing with him and showing him the ropes. He's extremely confident and has a ton of toy drive and lots of natural herding instinct on which I'm going to need some advice from you experienced BC people. I think I need to find some sheep! He's even doing some retrieving which is a behavior that I'll definitely encourage. He learned to sit today, but this is very different from training the retriever types. It'll be an experience, that's all I can say. I said that I had a "need for speed" and I think I'm gonna get what I wished for... Uh oh! Stay tuned for the entertainment.

If you're interested in his puppy blog from Julie's, find it here:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quila's AKC runs Bouvier trial

This weekend, Quila and I were entered in the Bouvier de Flanders AKC trial at the Canine Sports Recreation Center in Dexter, MI. I decided to try to put into effect some of the specific techniques we learned the last couple of weeks in Kristine's class highlighting Linda Mecklenberg's handling system. Specifically, we went over and practiced all the different Recalls To Heel exercises in addition to forward and lateral sends. I'm learning how to blend my forward and lateral cues and finding that Quila needs more forward motion before I can fade laterally, otherwise she pulls off the jumps. We're still not as speedy as I'd like, but I'm hoping that her confidence will build as my handling system becomes more clear and she becomes familiar with it.

This first jumpers run, I decided to try the double rear cross because we had just tried it in Deb's seminar last Sunday. Not something that encourages speed in Quila, but it was one of the best options in this case, so, what the hell. I figured I'd give it a try. Almost chickened out, but once I hadn't done the Front cross, I was stuck with it. We did it, but it wasn't the prettiest move.

On Saturday, we got to put two 270 recall-to-heel exercises into practice on the same standard course. They both worked out splendidly. I was quite happy with our performance.

Sunday, we had two tricky contact performances. The dogwalk exit was a flick away to the tunnel, or a rear cross on the flat. We were successful with that move, however, not so much on the A-frame. You can't see the A-frame contact because it's on the other side of the camera. There was a curved tunnel after the frame and, of course, they were to take the far side, to the right. So I wanted to fade laterally, so I stayed close to the frame until I "thought" she had it, then I faded laterally to the right. And she followed me spectacularly, didn't even glance at the wrong tunnel entrance. Unfortunately, she pulled off of the frame and completely missed her contact. But that's a proofing issue, as I haven't worked turns at all off our running contacts. So, I was just happy that she read my handling cues. It's all I could ask for until I train it. As it is, we're lucky to get the contacts we do, as she still doesn't have a clear understanding of what I want. She certainly tries though.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Videos of Sam-I-Am

Here are a couple of links to the videos we made of Sam.

The first one is a compilation of the tricks he learned while he was here. Unfortunately he didn't get me giving the cues, but you get the idea. He's a real quick learner and figured out the clicker game really fast.

This second video is of some play time in the snow with Sam and Quila, our golden. The game I'm eventually playing with Sam is "Ready, Set, Break!" I wanted to see what kind of impulse control he had. He did great and caught on to the game really fast. He's learning that he can release on the "break" word, which is always preceded by "set". And he's a fantastic frisbee catcher. Unfortunately, I'm still learning how to time my release of the disk properly to teach him how to catch it in midair. He can grab it from my hand at this point. Bet he'll learn to catch it in no time flat. Plus, the good disk got buried under 6" of snow the night before this video, so I only had a torn up floppy disk to play with.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sam-I-Am Day 5

Well, I just can't get over what a fast learner this little guy is. Tonight with his dinner I taught him "cover" where he puts his paw over his nose. Very cute, I should get a photo. He learned it with about 1/3 of his meal. Then we practiced "back-up" and when I went back to cover, he did it right away. He's a damn smart little dog.

He's doing really well with socialization. Because Quila did so well with him yesterday, despite the altercation, I thought I'd try it again tonight. They played for a good 30 minutes with me in the snow throwing toys. Although he'd chase Quila during her chase of the ball, there were no incidents because Quila just backed off until he became disinterested. Basically, once something stops moving, it's no longer interesting to him. I need to film their behavior because it's such an interesting study of learning dog communication. Seems like Quila's really teaching him something. Maybe Saturday before he leaves back home, we'll do a little. It's just too dark when I get home now.

Anyway, he's come a long way. Maybe I'll even let Gromit out with him, but she might not want to interact after their first incident. She tends to remember and stays fearful of dogs after they've scared her. Same thing happened in Phoenix at the dog park with this big mastiff that scared the crap out of her on our first visit.

This is quite good for him to interact with these guys. Maybe Deb will let me share him and do some agility training once he's more under control! I'm still not confident about him ever being under control in an environment with many unknown dogs. But if anyone can do it, Deb can.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Well, some of you might be wondering how it's going with Sam. He is an absolutely wonderful dog, very smart and drivey. Unfortunately, he wants to have my dogs for lunch. I have no doubt that with enough time, he will be able to successfully integrate into a home with dogs. And even, get his reactivity under control enough to be around dogs in public. I might even be able to do it. But I'm just not sure if I'm willing to take on that liability. He's done okay here. He still sometimes goes off on my guys when they travel by his x-pen to go outside. They ignore him for the most part.

Poor Gromit got it good the other night though. They were getting along without any stress signs until Gromit got too close to his crate. I should have known better than to allow them near his crate, but hindsight's 20/20. Lesson learned. He let her know that was not acceptable. Now she won't go anywhere near him. Tonight I introduced him to my golden Quila outside in relatively neutral territory. They did well and played chase in the snow for a while. Quila initiated play with a tug toy and they played chase. Unfortunately, once he got it, he didn't understand the whole sharing concept. Quila did an excellent job of blocking his "advances" and remained unscarred after the incident. He got a time out in his crate.

I'm sure Quila, Gromit, and Sam would work it out. But Kimba is my main concern. She doesn't give him the time of day right now, totally ignores his existence. But if he were to ever attempt to challenge her, she won't be as diplomatic as Quila. It's only going to take once and he's going to end up seriously wounded or worse. That would be wrong for me to put either of them in that position. I can't watch them every second and it can happen in the blink of an eye.

It's too bad because he's a fantastic dog who learns amazingly fast. I've been asking him to work for his food (NILF). He's learned high 5 with either paw, bow, and tonight we did weave through my legs, and spin both directions, and started "head down". He's picking things up really fast. He's amazing at frisbee and will wait for a break word and launch over my leg to catch the disk. I know he'd be fantastic at agility and diskdog, probably a lot of other events too: certainly lure coursing and flyball. As long as someone can control his aggressiveness with other dogs.

So, the wonderful rescue person that took him in originally is totally in love with him, so she will keep him. She's a flyball person and he's already shown a propensity for it. So, although I'll miss him, my other dogs won't be sorry to see him leave. Rick and I will miss him just because he's such a sweety with us. He adores Rick, so that's nice to see that he likes men. He'll do great back with Deb and her pack. So we'll keep him until Saturday. We're doing more work and will continue to train and socialize until then. This is a good learning experience for me. I'm actually having fun learning how to redirect his behavior. The trick training really helps.

Oh well, guess we'll have to go with the back up plan of looking for a BC or pyr shep puppy! That's not going to make it any easier on Saturday. We just had a wrestling match on the bed and he's just a cuddling fool. I'll miss him.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dogwalk contact trainer

Here's a picture of my new contact trainer that Rick built for me. It's just an 8 foot aluminum plank topped with wood. He put a hinge on the end of it and we attached it to the existing doghouse. Now I can reward the up contact easily with a "yes" and they can get their treat right away as I can just throw it on top of the flat roof. Also, this makes it easy for Quila and Gromit to turn around and go back down right away. I was finding it was difficult to reward my golden for "ups" on the normal 12 foot DW, as she would have to continue all the way across the entire length before she could just stop and try again. I just LOVE this!

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