Friday, October 30, 2009

Clicker Training: When we forget...

Apparently I haven't been clicker training Gary enough. When I went out to see him with my clicker around my neck, he grabbed it in his mouth. He'd never done that before. So, I filled up my pockets with carrot bits and pretzels (horses seem to like the Trader Joe's pretzels with sesame and they are the perfect size) and we headed out to practice. He was pushy with reaching for treats, and did not target on cue, so it looks as if we need to go back to basics.

That means that the treat goes into a bowl on the ground, so Gary remembers that mooching is not appropriate. We'll go back to targeting, where he touches his nose to my hand and help him to get reliable with his ability to follow my hand. This will help us with my goal, which is for him to be able to reverse while free lunging 'into' the circle, rather than his habit, which is to turn away.

What's the yoga in this? Samskaras. Samskaras are habits, and some habits are useful, and some not so much. We replace the habits that are not useful with habits that are, by practicing for a long time, without attachment to outcome. So, it's back to the clicker basics for Gary to re-establish those useful habits.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yoga Horse: Pose / Counter Pose

(Note: This is an edited re-post)

As Gary and I explore the nuances of posture and breathing through yoga, we come up against a samskara, a habit, of Gary's that is his own habit (rather than a mirror of my own, of which there are plenty). That's his stiff-necked posed, which gets in the way of a comfortable back up or a comfortable move forward.
Usually, if I exhale to engage my own transversus abdominus muscle and sacrum, he will come out of the stiff-necked posture. Today was different, so Stacey suggested to go into the pose with him, and then do the
counter pose of flexion and engagement. You can see the results.
An additional yoga question here is: did Gary's stiff-necked posture have anything to do with my needing stillness and needing to resolve 'something' through letting tears flow?

I have learned that, rather than asking 'if' or 'does', it is more helpful to ask: 'What did...'. So, what was the information that Gary was transmitting, in his stiff-necked posture prior to movement?

It might just be, "This is my habit." Or, it might be, "You are hiding something, why should I move?" And, it could be both. Thank you, Gary, for another deep lesson.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Blog - DhYoga Dog Training

Educating Ellie has moved to DhYoga Dog Training where the focus is dog specific and where Ellie's progress will continue to be tracked.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Educating Ellie: Bit of a Breakthrough

Hooray! Rather than straining at the leash in the opposite direction from me, Ellie started moderating her pace to mine, speeding up and slowing down, and repeatedly doing a 'sit' when I stop.

This makes up for my coming home from teaching the Deep Core Yoga Intensive today and seeing her whole body balanced carefully on the living room windowsill, watching out the window.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Educating Ellie: Let the Wild Rumpus Begin

It's only fair to report missteps with Miss Ellie, though thankfully they are few.

Today we did her flea dip again (I use Organic Neem dip from Azmira), and didn't realize that Socks had come 'off the wall'. Naturally, Ellie saw him before I did, and it was Cat and Dog, nature in the raw.

For whatever Cat reason, Socks jumped off the wall right in front of her, Ellie pounced, and Socks went at her with all claws, all four paws. Having been the recipient of those mighty weapons, I would have thought she would have backed off sooner than she did. He got in some good licks, enough to finally back her off, and he headed up the tree.

And here we'd had such a great walk in the park. So, time for Ellie to go into the house to settle down, and I took Socks treats to coax him out of the tree.

Ever watch a cat climb down a tree? It's a true lesson in climbing, as he got himself into situations where the only way out was to keep going.

And he did, making it safely to the wall, and his treats were waiting for him, and they were still crunchy (with apologies to Maurice Sendak).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Educating Ellie: The Yoga of Park

I wonder if I need to change my title here, as Ellie is educating me.

Park is a neutral reinforcement training strategy, not a clicker training strategy. The idea is to ignore the dog until the dog "self-manages" and lays down. The dog is leashed, and can't move more than one or two feet from the handler.

Every morning, about 5:45 am, I take Ellie to the park and attach her to one of the benches supplied for the handicap next to the ballfield on the corner. I take my cup of tea, plenty of treats, and an extra leash. I attach the extra leash to the bench, and I hold the other. (I do this in case some other dog who isn't under control threatens Ellie, so I can quickly unhook her, yet still have my leash attached to her.)

We do a combination of Park and Attention, maybe sneaking in some Sit, Touch, and Watch Me with Distraction. Park is for when no one is around. I switch to Clicker Training when there is movement; people, other dogs, bicycles, children, birds, leaves. When the movement is gone, I go back to park, drink my tea.

We are getting to know those movement folks! Each day is a little less intense. She's coming along.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Educating Ellie: Curbing Cat Chasing: Step 1

Ellie has no check on her very strong prey drive, so helping her to live successfully with our two older cats is probably our biggest challenge. Although I've been successful with other dog and cat introductions, I actually had not run across a dog exhibiting as strong a drive as Ellie, so I went to my favorite training site and found a great article by Joan Orr addressing just this issue.

Socks and Kafka understand that click means treat, so that piece was in place. Ellie has discovered that food rewards are pretty nifty, so I started as Joan suggested, with Ellie in her kennel and clicking and treating her and Socks (tossing treats to Socks). One thing I wasn't crazy about was the barrier issue, with Ellie in her kennel.

That problem got solved later in the day when we came home from our walk, I let Ellie off leash, and then my husband informed me that Socks was loose in the house. There was a pounce, a hiss and smack, and I caught Ellie, put on the leash and began the click-n-treat vending machine routine - madly clicking and treating both Ellie and Socks. Ellie began to look to me, and I was running out of treats, and we called it a night. Success. Now to repeat, repeat, repeat.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Educating Ellie: The Yoga of Dog Training

Downward-facing dog might be your favorite yoga pose, but that isn't quite what I mean when I'm talking about the yoga of dog training.

There are dog trainers who have probably never been inside of a yoga studio but whose way with dogs is definitely a yoga. Mike, from whom I picked up Ellie, is one of those dog training natural yogis, although I'm not sure he would think of himself in that way. He just knows dogs, what they need, and how to interact with them. The rest of us need to develop our awareness and observation skills when interacting with our dogs, and that's where learning yoga tools is so helpful.

The yoga tools that I find helpful in my work with dogs and other animals include: asana (postures) and vinyasa (movement) to develop a strong and centered stance (very useful when with a dog that pulls), breathwork (useful for calming and regulating energy levels up and down when needed) and meditation tools for focusing awareness, observing behaviors, and learning more deeply about the dog.

Ellie has a very strong prey drive, and her focus is naturally outward, towards things that move (like cats). My focus, in training, has to be on Ellie, and how to help her direct some of that acute attention towards me. I'm using a combination of clicker training, and neutral techniques called 'park' and 'racetracking'.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Educating Ellie

Ellie is a three year old rescued German Shepherd who doesn't seem to have had any formal dog training. I will be tracking our education progress and posting highlights here.

My initial evaluation of Ellie was that she was intelligent and kind, and she took easily to the clicker 'loading'. She also jumps on people, clambers on furniture, chases cats, and pulls hard on the leash, and indicates a very strong prey drive so we have some behaviors to remove, replace, and redirect.

Funny how, once I got home, her interest in food as reward virtually went away. She does like the click, and responds well to positive verbal praise, so I offer the treat with praise ("Good girl", "Good Job", "Thank You"). She takes her treat about 30% of the time, turned her nose up at cooked chicken, and doesn't know what to do with dog biscuits.

Physical touch with Ellie is interesting. She's clever at gently deflecting head touching, accepts body handling and brushing, but seems to have mixed feelings about being touched. This is going to be a rich area to explore with her. She does love to have her chest scratched.

And, she loves her ball. She invents games with the ball, so I suspect she spent a lot of time on her own without much physical interaction with her humans, and devised ways to keep herself happy and amused. We've already begun a gentle game of give and take, and she loves that.

We've already made some excellent progress towards loose leash walking. I do some 'racetracking' with her and once she settles into a pace where she isn't pulling, I switch to many clicks and rewards. She will accept her treats probably 80/20 while walking. From 100% pull to about 60/40 now, so she's learning fast!