Archive for March, 2012

Fear periods

Posted: March 21, 2012 in new puppy
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About two weeks ago, Jagger woke up and showed a previously uncharacteristic fear of strangers.  He also began acting as if he’d never seen a moving car before in his life, which was also quite out of character as he’s being going to work with me in downtown Cary and my construction site since January.  He’d had no apparent traumatic events, so I am left to assume that this is just one of those strange periods of fearfulness that young dogs experience as part of their normal development.  Copper was a very bold puppy and never seemed to go through a period like this.  It was at this point that I realized how profoundly grateful I am for the experiences that owning Izzy has brought me.

My dog behavior library

Library: doesn't even include my DVDs or agility books!

Izzy was found as a stray adolescent by my friend Meg.  We estimate that at the time she was rescued she was about 6 or 7 months old.  With hindsight, I now recognize that Izzy was probably well on her way to becoming feral, and had almost certainly not been in a house before she came to live with us.  She used to do things like bark hysterically at phone jacks, hop from carpet to carpet rather than walk on wood floors, and attempt to bolt in a blind panic if someone appeared after opening a door.  I knew next to nothing about dog training at the time, but did manage to make major progress on her fears with the help of a lot of books.  But unfortunately, at 2 years old Izzy began showing very serious aggression toward strange people and dogs.  She also started barking and lunging at anything on wheels, and even became aggressive toward dogs that she’d previously been friends with.  What finally prompted me to seek professional help was when, over the course of two months, she lunged and air-snapped at my mother-in-law, bit but did not break the skin on my father, and managed to drag me off my feet (no easy feat) attempting to attack a lady in a hooded parka.  I went through several trainers before I found one that was able to help me, and after some very hard-learned lessons I am happy to say that by 3 years old, Izzy was completely safe around people and at least manageable around strange dogs.  It took a while, but I also came to terms with the fact that she was just not going to be a good choice as a novice’s first agility dog, and that she was never going to be the gregarious family pet that I’d wanted.

They say you get the dog you need, not the one you want.

Here are some particularly important lessons from Izzy that I am using to benefit Jagger:

1. Almost all seemingly aggressive behavior in dogs (especially barking!) is actually driven by fear and anxiety. Be sensitive to that.

2. It’s normal for dogs to be startled on occasion.  The trick is in how they react afterwards.  They may need help learning to calm down.

3. Recognize where the dog’s threshold is, and always work below it, realizing that it can change in a non-linear fashion.

4. Never lure a dog with food to approach something scary, including taking treats from a person that scares them.  Just looking at the person calmly and then moving away is perfectly acceptable and successful outcome.  Your dog does not have to be friends with everyone.

5. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.  Izzy has shown me many examples of what abnormal dog behavior looks like; what Jagger’s showing ain’t it.  His fears aren’t to be ignored by any means, but he’s going to be fine.

6. Last but not least, there is nothing like owning a black, dark-eyed, floppy-eared dog to teach you to read subtle dog body language.

I am pleased to say that Jagger is much less concerned about moving cars today than he was two weeks ago, though we still have a little ways to go.  He is much more willing to greet strangers again, though he is sometimes spooky and has not quite grown out of occasional submissive urination.  He does enjoy looking at strangers and walking past them, and I think that as he learns that he gets to choose whether he would like someone to greet him or not, he will continue to become more confident.


Since the last video update, I’ve continued to work on a variety of tricks with Jagger.  Most recently, my focus has been on not bolting out the door without permission, heeling, backing up, hind foot targeting, various balance tricks (feet in a bowl, picking up feet, standing on balance disk, front feet on a ball, etc.), and as you’ll see below – wrapping objects:

I’ll work on a bit more distance and proofing the verbal cue for left vs right, but what you see in the video is basically as far as I plan to take this behavior until Jagger gets a bit older.

Jagger is displeased

This is what Jagger thinks of resting.

In other news, Copper and I had a pretty great weekend at a local USDAA trial recently.  The most notable parts were our first P3 Jumpers Q, our second Snooker Super Q, our first P3 Relay Q, and our first time ever successfully completing a masters level gamble (though I ran out of time so did not qualify).

Izzy is a somewhat aloof dog, so when I got Copper I think it provided a welcome outlet for her human’s sometimes undignified level of affection.  She never seemed particularly jealous, and once she got used to the idea that I was not always talking to her but might be directing a cue to the puppy instead, she was quite comfortable to have puppy-Copper around.

Copper, to put it mildly, is a momma’s boy. Lest you think I consider this a negative, I freely admit that we have some co-dependency issues.  Izzy is “just” a pet, rather than a performance dog, so he doesn’t really have to share me with her in the same way that he shares me with Jagger.  This has led to some amusing incidents since he’s not used to sharing the momma:

Copper in my lap

"I was here FIRST!"

I didn’t want Copper to feel left out, and I have been having so much fun free-shaping tricks with Jagger, that I figured I might as well spend some time improving Copper’s trick repertoire.

Jagger asks a question

"What, I no good enough?? I try harder, I promise! Only... I just puppy..."

When Copper was a puppy, I didn’t know that much about the importance of shaping (that is, rewarding successive approximations and pieces of a simple behavior to work toward a more complicated behavior) for the agility dog.  I also didn’t know how beneficial trick training, with its emphasis on shaping, was for the agility dog.  Copper knows a number of tricks, but most of these were taught with luring (that’s using a treat to guide the dog into positions instead of waiting for him to offer a behavior and then presenting the dog with a treat as one does in shaping).  The result of this has been a dog that is not quite as “active” as I’d like in agility and who would often default to just standing there looking at me for help.  I’ve had to go back and remedy this at various points in his training, in particular with jumping foundations, and was always pleased with the end result.

Copper does understand shaping, but he’s not as versatile at it as I’d like.  He will very quickly default to offering me a down instead of more varied behaviors.  It’s been said by far more experienced people than I that much of agility is about targeting behavior, so while Copper understands nose targeting I would like him to have the skill of targeting objects with his feet.  I very much wish I’d known about the importance of this when he was a puppy, as one of the skills I have struggled the most to teach him on the agility course is to be aware of where he’s putting his feet, aka “hind-end awareness.”  I think a lot of our early obstacle training would have been far easier had I known about this early foundation work.  Well, live and learn. I’m sure I’ll discover many things the hard way while training Jagger that I’ll swear to fix with the next dog.

My plan for my shaping sessions with Copper is that I will keep them short – well under five minutes.  Less is more with this dog, and I have also discovered that latent learning is very, very important in his process to acquire a new skill.  Limiting myself to very short sessions made it important that I have a well-defined goal for each session.  For our first project, I chose that I would teach Copper the trick of standing on an upside down bowl with two front feet, then work toward circling the bowl while keeping his feet on it.  I had just taught this trick to Jagger as part of his heeling foundation work, so I was comfortable with the method and liked the skills it imparted.

Session One:

Goal – Reward Copper for interacting with an upside down bowl with behaviors OTHER than sitting or lying down next to it.

Methods – Keep rate of reinforcement high, and make sure to reward even slight behaviors, such as weight shifts.

Results – Very successful!  By not being too picky (i.e., any behavior’s a winner), and rewarding very, very small things like head tilts or weight shits, I was able to quickly get him away from the idea that he had to lie down to earn the cookies.  I r dog trainer for reals?

Session Two:

Goal – Reward Copper for offering some interaction of feet with the upside down bowl.

Methods – Again, keep rate of reinforcement high, but focus on rewards for weight shifts, accidental foot movement, and hopefully progressively MORE foot movement.

Results – Again, very successful, though I did spend most of the time rewarding weight shifts and need to remember not to raise my criteria too quickly in expecting actual foot lifts.

Session Three:

Goal – Reward Copper for offering interaction of feet with the upside down bowl.  I kept the same goal as Session Two based on the results from last time, and because there had been a several weeks gap since between sessions due to illness on my part.

Methods – Reward for increasingly greater weight shifts and higher foot lifts in the vicinity of the bowl.  Jackpot for any “happy accidents” where contact is made with feet and the bowl.

Results – Hilarity!  I should have expected this given what a literal dog Copper is, but I very quickly shaped him to hold his left foot in the air over the bowl.  Now I need to shape him to bring it down on the bowl.  Love that boy.  We did have two times where he put his left foot on the bowl, which I rewarded with a jackpot of extra cheese and verbal praise.  I was tempted to get more treats and keep going, but stuck to my hard-learned rule about less being more with this dog.

puppy destroys the magazine

"So technically, you should thank me!"

Been sick lately, so no blog update until my brain un-fogs.

Does he sleep??

Posted: March 5, 2012 in new puppy
Tags: , , ,

What Jagger does for entertainment when normal puppies are sleeping:

I took Copper and Jagger hiking today. Jagger was very funny while watching Copper jump into the river after sticks. At first, he had this bewildered/shocked expression like, “Is this guy for real?! wtf is he doing jumping in there?!” But he was also conflicted, because there were sticks being thrown and he wanted to chase them. So he brought me a stick or two and said, “Plz 2 throw on dry land?” He eventually worked his way down the the water’s edge and waded a bit.  He still thinks Copper is crazy.

The end.