November 03, 2007

The paw plunger

Like a giant coffee cup filled with bristles, the paw plunger lets you wash puppy's feet without a whole bath. Handy device or useless gadget?

Might be useful after Duz's side trips through the mangroves.

Wagging School

A little different from previous tv dog-training schools, Wagging Schools is a series of five minute programs each dedicated to teaching a basic skill like sit, lie down and leave it.

All the Wagging School videos are available to download onto your mobile device - in MP4, WMV and 3gpp format. Or you can download all 10 guides in one pdf (202KB).

Wagging School's Golden Rules

When you make a plan of action, stick to it and don't change your mind later. If you ask your dog to sit, make sure it does so immediately every time! And if you don't want your dog on your favourite chair, don't allow it to get up on any furniture ever!

Many people just pull their dogs around either without speaking or being annoyed. Very negative behaviour.

Don't just stand there waiting for your dog. Dogs need a leader, so tell it firmly and show it what you want. Then when it does it, praise it.

Learn to say training word first, then quickly get dog to respond, then quickly praise or reward with a treat. Say it, Do it (quickly) & Praise it a lot!

The second your dog has done what you asked it to do, praise it well - use positive reinforcement only.

Don't say anything if your dog doesn't obey you, just simply ask it again and make it happen. Then give it lots of praise, of course!

November 02, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry

There are quite a few of these books around - "Choosing the dog that's right for you". But Sam Stall tells it like it is, giving the most important information would-be owners might need to know about more than 100 varieties of dogs. Each entry addresses key factors, like size, coat type, temperament, exercise requirements, potential genetic issues, schedule demands (does the dog mind if you leave her alone all day?) and financial demands.

Helpful pet icons tell if a dog is aggressive, very smart, needs a lot of grooming, can make a lot of noise, etc.; while other icons pertain to owners, differentiating between couch potatoes and active folk, suburbanites and city dwellers, etc.

Whimsical sketches of each dog give an indication of personality. Stall's humor makes the book a little different from others available: describing a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel's watchdog potential, he says "the only way it could harm a burglar is if the guy tripped over it." He warns that "Goldens like to carry things in their mouths. They may trot around for hours holding an interesting piece of underwear before presenting it to houseguests."


guarding?, originally uploaded by illona.

An interesting discussion taking place on Flickr around Illona's photo taken at a dog park. What is agression? What is inappropriate play? Should someone intervene? Who? And how?

What is the role of the dog park? Are they good places to take your dog? Should they be more strictly 'policed'?

September 18, 2007

Genetics and Behaviour

Nicholas Dodman is head of the animal behaviour clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Using brand new genetic 'chip' technology Dodman is exploring the genetics of common behavioural problems in dogs.

The correlation between particular breeds and specific behaviours has been obvious to observers; Dodman's experiments will uncover the genetic sources of these behaviours. He will initially look at flank sucking in Dobermans, tail chasing in Bull Terriers, and rage in Springer Spaniels.

With selective breeding and documented pedigrees, purebred dogs provide a powerful system for untangling genetic complexities.

While linking human and animal research is problematic, some commentators are hoping that Dodman's research will illuminate human psychiatric probelms such as aggression, self-harm, and obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

September 17, 2007

Positive or Negative?

Interviewed for Bark magazine, Dr Nicholas Dodman said.

"I think that the direct punishment-based techniques are outmoded, a thing of the past, and should be avoided. Nobel Prize winners Lorenz, Tinbergen and Von Frisch might have disagreed on some points, but the three of them were all in agreement that punishment teaches a dog nothing except how to avoid the punishment."

"I work on the theory that if you can train a killer whale to launch itself out of a swimming pool, roll on its side and urinate into a small plastic cup, given only a whistle and a bucket of fish, without a choke chain, then you don’t need those confrontational techniques with dogs."

September 16, 2007

Virtual Clicker Training

The US PBS network's program Pet Tech featured Duncan, a virtual sheep dog who looks after a virtual flock. Created by a team at MIT's Media Lab, Duncan has a mind of his own and can learn to respond to verbal commands. Like a real dog, however, Duncan's performance often depends on the skill of his human master.

With advice from Gary Wilkes, they used a clicker to teach him a range of commands.

You can watch episodes of Pet Tech online.

September 08, 2007

Basic skills of clicker training

What: Criteria
Before you start a training session, decide exactly what you are going to reinforce. Unless you know what you want, you’re unlikely to get it! Remember to teach in tiny increments, rather than expecting the whole finished behaviour all at once. The smaller the increments the more successful your dog will be at working the behaviour out for himself – and that produces the best learning.

When: Timing
The click marks exactly the moment that the dog performs the desired behaviour. It tells the dog “That’s what I want. That’ll get you a reward” You will find that you have to anticipate the dog’s action so as to click on time. It is better to click too soon than too late.

Where: Placement
While the clicker is the primary marker, everything that happens between the click and the treat is being reinforced. If you click a sit then your dog gets up for the treat, getting up without a cue is being reinforced. So where possible, reward the dog in position, or use the delivery of the treat to reinforce the behaviour. Eg click backing up, and toss the treat under the dog’s belly so she has to back up to get it.

How Much: Rate of Reinforcement
Keep the rate of reinforcement high, particularly in the early stages of teaching a new behaviour. Your dog knows how to sit. What you are teaching him is that it is worth his while to sit when you give the cue – so make it worth his while! As you raise the criteria you will be demanding more of your dog for less frequent reinforcement.

Intro to clicker training

Notes for a workshop I gave at the ADAA Camp. They came from Bob Baily via Dani Weinberg and Helix Fairweather.

How to Teach a New Behaviour

1. Get yourself organized
Prepare small, soft, easily delivered treats or decide on another reward. Practice clicking and delivering the treat until you can do it smoothly and quickly.

2. Warmup
Start each training sessions with a few rounds of Clicking Attention. Just click and treat if your dog is new to clicker training, or ask for a few simple well known behaviours that you can click and treat.

3. Get the behaviour
Capture – Watch your dog and click and treat if your dog offers the behaviour.
Lure – Coax your dog into performing the behaviour with a strategically positioned treat. Only lure two or three times then let your dog figure it out.
Shape – Click and treat ever closer approximations to the behaviour. First step might be look at the target, then move towards it, touch with nose, press nose against it.

4. Change the picture
Start helping your dog generalize by changing your position, orientation, distance. Sit, stand, turn sideways …

5. Give it a name
When your dog is doing the behaviour intentionally and predictably, give the cue while the behaviour is happening. Then gradually give the cue earlier, until you can give it before the behaviour starts.

If your dog offers any behaviour other than the one you asked for, do nothing. Wait for your dog to figure it out, then click and treat when your dog gets it right.
Once you have built up an association between the cue and the behaviour, if your dog offers the behaviour when you haven’t cued it, ignore! Then immediately give the cue and click and treat the repeated behaviour.

6. Make it harder
Start delaying the click and treat, one second at a time, to build duration.
Raise your standards and only click and treat those instances of the behaviour that meet your new standard. You might ask for faster, further, longer, straighter … Work on one criterion at a time.

Go back a step if necessary to keep the dog’s success rate high.

7. Take it on the road
Ask for the behaviour in new parts of the house, garden, street, suburb … Practice in increasingly distracting locations, and introduce distractions to familiar locations.

September 06, 2007

Sapper Merlin killed on duty

Sapper Merlin watches as Sapper Peter Lawlis eats a biscuit.

An Australian Cattle Dog cross from Brisbane he was working as a bomb detection dog in Afghanistan, when he was run over while sleeping in the shade of a vehicle.