October 31, 2005

Another 'sister'

At Uralla we met up with Toni Simmonds and Ochre - a half sister to Dusty, both by Gr Ch Bangeeri Aussie Alchemist. While Dusty has black eyliner neatly applied, Ochre has wonderful black smudges around both eyes. She is on her way to her Herding Started title, but has taken a break recently to become a mum. Dippa and Ember have just gone to their new homes.

Clarence Herding Trial

We had a great weekend at Uralla for the Clarence District Kennel Club's inaugural herding tests and trials. Four in all offering Instinct Certificate Tests, Herding Tests, Pre-trial Tests, and Herding Started A - all on sheep.

The test/trial process is a complicated one, but the requirements for each event are straightforward, and our judges, Jenny and Robert Cox, were generous with their explanations. There is nothing on the RNSWCC site about herding regulations, and if they are on the ANKC site there they aren't immediately obvious. To find the regulations you need to go to the CAWA web site.

I had been building a strong reinforcement history with Dusty for a downstay and recall so I was fairly confident of this part of the test, though in the yard with the sheep at the beginning of the instinct test was a new experience. I have also tried to keep to the really reliable recall guidelines, and her recall off the sheep has been good in the past. But she is still a puppy - she was just old enough to enter by a week, and she has only seen sheep twice in her life, the last time over a month ago.

"For both the first and second leg tests, the passing dog should show good, sustained interest of such a nature that the dog appears to be ready to begin preliminary training. Strong desire and a well adjusted, willing attitude should be demonstrated. The overall impression should be that the dog has the potential to be a useful, practical working dog. Constructive herding activity, not chasing should be evidenced."

Dusty did seem to be herding, keeping to the outside of the group and trying to keep them together, not rushing at them or trying to get them. It was hard, though. The sheep that we train with were attacked by dogs during the week, so were replaced by fresh sheep - nowhere near as accustomed to being herded by dogs.

But she did it. She gained a qualification in each of the two tests, so now has a Herding Instinct Certificate, and is ready to begin training in earnest.

October 27, 2005

Skateboarding Step by Step

Session one
Skateboard in the middle of the room, pillow restricting movement.

  1. Dusty backs up (recently learned, not on cue)

  2. one foot on board CT

  3. two front feet on board CT and call her to me for a pat

  4. she backs up

  5. two front feet on board CT

  6. three feet on CT

  7. wait for fourth foot, she lies down and puts her chin on the board, very cute. call her to me.

  8. hops up with four feet CT

  9. stays on board with four feet CT

  10. stays on board with four feet CT

  11. call her to me with lots of praise and a tummy scritch

  12. runs back and hops up with four feet CT

  13. stays CT

  14. stays CT

  15. release and play smack a puppy.

Session two
Skateboard in the middle of the room, pillow restricting movement, count out three lots of ten treats, raised the criteria to four feet on the board.
  1. Dusty runs over and hops up on the board CT throwing treat off to the side so she has to get off the board

  2. Repeat until she has had the ten treats, release and play.

  3. Repeat, for another ten treats.

  4. Repeat, this time rewarding facing the front of the board.

Session three
Took away the pillow so the board could move, on carpet so it doesn’t move too fast, criteria moving the board while standing on it with one or more feet. Ten treats.

Session four
Still on the carpet. Two rewardable behaviours: either standing on the board with all four feet, or pushing the board along while having one or more feet on it. I have never tried having alternative criteria so not sure if it will work.

Session five
Rubber bands against the wheel bearings slow the board down, we move outside to our street which slopes down to the gutter. Rewarding either hopping on the board or pushing it along.

Session six
Taken the rubber bands off the board, reinforcing jumping on the board and staying on it for five or ten seconds as it rolls. Dusty tends to stand on the nose rather than in the middle, so I probably missed a step reinforcing her for the correct position on the board.

Session seven
Breakthrough. Dusty combines the behaviours, pushing with one foot while staying on the board.

Session eight
Captured on film.

October 26, 2005

Dusty Skating

The members of Jo Sermon's Agility Training forum were challenged to clicker train our dogs to ride a skateboard. This video captures our current state of expertise. Establishing the criteria at each stage of progress was a challenge, but we are enjoying it.

Air Dogs

"Dedicated to Australian Agility enthusiasts and their dogs, Airdogs.com.au offers a range of agility equipment and training tools. Bringing together the finest Australian made and the best products from name brand overseas companies, Air Dogs offers everything you need for your agility dog."

Good to see more of those things I've been drooling over on overseas web sites - or braving exchange rates and postages costs for - now available from an Australian source. Air Dogs has a easy to navigate site, a good and expanding range of products, and a range of ways to purchase.

Running and Jumping

Still practising gaiting reinforcing looking ahead, and above all not jumping up at me, I decided that part of the problem was just the excitement of my running-walk.

When we do restrained recalls I encourage the excitement and direct it onto a tug toy. But I haven't ever trained her to be calm while I'm running. So this week we have been doing free running, off leash, for short distances (not that my running long distances was an option), either in a straight line or in a circle.

This reminded me of Greg Derrett's basic agility skills training, so I watched the video again. Agility Foundation Training stresses the importance of 'circle work' - getting your dog accustomed to running with you, on your left and right, on both the inside and outside of the circle. The dog not only gets used to the thrill of you running, but also learns to read your body language and position himself in relation to you.

Greg's Agility Foundation includes:
  • Get the dog you want.
  • Give it a short sharp name.
  • Study basic learning theory.
  • Teach it to play, including tug.
  • Become more rewarding to the dog than the environment or the equipment.
  • Develop a solid wait with strict criteria.
  • Have consistent release commands.
  • Teach directional commands - left, right, go on.
  • Practice circle work.
  • Have a regular fitness routine.

October 23, 2005

Sewing for Dogs

Walking the aisles of a new pet shop that sponsored our show last weekend, I resolved to start to make dog toys, beds, collars and things. I used to make my son’s clothes until he was old enough to talk and insisted on shop-bought gear like the rest of the kids in play group. I continued making my own for a while, and made soft furnishings when I couldn’t buy what I wanted, but it has been a while.

Like most things these days, there is plenty of information online on how to get started:

October 22, 2005

Swimming Lessons

We are on the beach most days, and Thommo swims regularly chasing a tennis ball, but Dusty hasn't ever gone into the water further than her knees. She didn't seem bothered by the water and would happily splash around in the shallows waiting for Thommo to come out. So I guessed she just didn't have a reason to go in.

Today was a balmy 26C, so I took them both down to Horseshoe beach, the local off leash area. It is on the harbour, so unless a ship goes past there aren't any waves to contend with.

I went out to about waist deep, and she swam after me. She had this look of grim determination and when she reached me she immediately swam back to shore, but she kept coming back out again. So I think she'll take to it. She had really good flotation, and excellent paddling action. I'll take a floating toy or two next time and play with her out in the water.

Seminars on CD

Looking for information on Leslie Nelson's book and DVD Really Reliable Recall, I came across a company that provides CDs of conferences and seminars including APDT's US conference from 2002 to the present.

Sessions, such as Nelson's, are available individually for US$14.00 or you can purchase the whole conference. They don't provide any details on the session, just the title and speaker so you have to either do some research or take a chance. Jean Owen - Advanced Agility Handling Skills with One Jump - sounded worth buying on spec, but a few moments Googling revealed Owen's expertise.

Might be something to listen to on those long drives to trials.

Canine SIM Games

A simulation game, or sim game, is a mixture of a game of skill, a game of chance and a game of strategy, which results in a simulation of a complex structure that reflects a real life society or creates a fantasy one.

Simulation games have been played with pencil and paper since time immemorial. Recently, simulation games have come to the computer. Computers are inarguably superior to humans in creating simulations, and they have allowed simulation games to become more realistic than ever before.

PawIt, Canis Major, Showdog.com, and Furry Paws, all allow you variations on raising, training, handling and competing with a virtual dog.

October 21, 2005

Restrained recall

Don’t Shoot the Dog

I came across this book in 1989. I had a degree in education and had been teaching at a University for ten years, when I took a new position in another city. Faced with developing new courses and new teaching methods, and suffering a crisis in confidence, I asked a mentor for recommendations of books that might inspire and motivate me. Don’t Shoot the Dog was her suggestion.

A decade later, when I had my first dog that I wanted to train to a competitive level, rather than to just walk beside me and to hop off the sofa when asked, Don’t Shoot the Dog was again recommended to me.

The principle behind Karen Pryor’s reinforcement training is based on behavioural science and nearly a century of controlled experimentation, but the principle in itself is very simple:

  • A reinforcer is anything that, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.
A reinforcer increases the behaviour. It is not necessarily a reward. A negative reinforcer is something that increases the behaviour as the subject tries to avoid the reinforcer. Karen use the example of an Aunt who raises her eyebrows as she goes to put her feet on the coffee table, the raised eyebrows are a gentle aversive that increases the likelihood that Karen will keep her feet on the floor.

A punishment is an aversive stimulus that occurs after the behaviour. Punishment does not result in predictable changes to the behaviour.

So a police car on the freeway is a negative reinforcer that increases the chance of your driving within the speed limit. A fine two weeks later in the mail from a hidden speed camera is a punishment that will have no predictable effect on your driving speed. A safe driver program where your eTag was automatically credited with $10 for every kilometre safely travelled uses a reinforcer and would tend to increase the possibility that you would drive within the limit.

October 19, 2005

A Short History of Dog Training

In the beginning there was Colonel Konrad Most - arguably the father of modern dog training. Most trained military dogs in Germany at the beginning of the 20th Century. His book, Training Dogs - A Manual, was published in German in 1910, but wasn't translated into English until 1954, the year of his death. It has recently been republished.

Most's training approach was widely adopted as the model for military training throughout the world, and is still used today for many military, police and service dog training programs. Although his techniques, which rely a combination of “inducements and compulsion,” use collar corrections and punishments that are considered heavy-handed from today's perspective, Most's methods are based on the principles of operant learning that form the basis of clicker training. Most was one of the first to see dogs, not as moral beings capable of spite and eagerness to please, but as dogs with their own system of reasoning.

Most's training techniques spread throughout the world as his students and disciples emigrated to other countries. Josef Weber (The Dog in Training, 1939) and Hans Tosutti (Companion Dog Training, 1948) opened schools for training dogs in Philadelphia and Boston respectively. Tosutti, writes “Another piece of equipment against which I warn is the plain choke collar. In order to obtain results with a collar of this type, the guide must pull on the choke to the point of strangling the dog until he loses his breath. I have seen dogs with necks strained and seriously injured from being trained with choke collars simply because of the strength that can be exerted when the guide brings the dog up short with a quick, hard jerk.” He felt that felt that the choke collar, “though quite innocuous in appearance, is an instrument of torture in the hands of the beginner because of its unlimited choke.” He may be suprised to see the widespread acceptance of the choke collar as a beginner's training aid today.

Marion Bailey and her first husband, Keller Breland, were graduate students of B.F. Skinner. Leaving graduate school in the early 1940's, they started Animal Behavior Enterprises - a business that trained and provided scores of animal species for commercial purposes. Keller Breland was the first dog trainer to use a clicker - a tin cricket - to bridge the time between the behavior and the delivery of the reinforcer. He used the sound to mark the desired behavior when training field dogs and herding dogs work in a field away from the handler. Breland called the click sound a "bridging stimulus."

It's possible that Breland's training approach using operant conditioning with a conditioned reinforcer might have spread beyond his own business, had not WWII solidified the military model in pet dog training.

William Koehler, who like Most was a military dog trainer, was located in Hollywood and gained exposure through celebrity clients. His book the Koehler Method of Dog Training was, and may still remain, the all-time best selling dog training book, forming the basis for virtually all dog training from the 1950's into the '70's. This method is closely based on Most’s combination of praise and corrections.

Meanwhile clicker training was being used by Keller Breland with other species. In the 1950's Marineland hired him to develop a training program for their marine mammals. In a matter of weeks, Keller devised the system of marine mammal training that is still in use today. The Brelands worked with many trainers and associates who worked in a variety of locations, including Sea Life Park, which was then owned by Karen Pryor and her husband.

Skip ahead a few years to 1984 when Karen Pryor wrote Don't Shoot the Dog, a guide to human interpersonal relations. Serendipitously, the book's title brought Pryor to the attention of dog trainers. Pryor met Gary Wilkes - a professional dog trainer and the first person since Keller Breland to use clicker training on a wide variety of dogs in a wide variety of applications. Gary and Karen combined to do seminars together and the die was cast for the word of clicker training to spread throughout the dog-training community.

Are You a Modern Trainer?

October 16, 2005


I'm looking for a new shelter for trials. There seems to be three popular styles - the Coolaroo type with poles that you dismantle; the uTents that use a beach umbrella as a support; and the First-up styles that fold up concertina fashion. None seem perfect, so its a trade off between cost, weight, and ease of assembly.

October 13, 2005


We had a bit of a hiccup with our gaiting this week. Dusty started jumping up to nip me on the arm (if I was lucky). So we have gone back to do the basic training which I sort of skipped, because she seemed to gait really nicely after our choose-to-heel work and related games.

My training partner suggested that I was encouraging the jumping by starting off with a little leap myself, and by rushing turns, so I first sorted out what I was doing with the help of a bunch of keys tied to the leash and a video camera.

Then we worked on 'off', calling Dusty to jump up and petting her, and then rewarding 'off' with a treat. After a couple of days of practicing this with myself and the neighbours, she was reluctant to jump up even when asked. Dusty is one to cut to the chase, and she learned fairly quickly that 'off' got liver and jumping up just got her hair mussed.

Finally - and this is perhaps where I should have started - we followed Sue Ailsby's guidelines to Conformation Gaiting and are working towards my arm out to the side being the cue to gait beside me, looking ahead.

October 09, 2005

FCI World Championships

Guy Blanke's site is a great resource - being able to watch the videos, with side-by-side comparisons of the placegetters, while looking at a map of the course is a useful aid to improving your own handling.

Greg Derrett won the Individual Large Dog Agility, but blew the Jumping course as his dog entered the weave poles with the first pole on its right shoulder. Looking at the course and the run the mistake is understandable - in attempting to bring JT around his body for a straighter approach to the poles, he pushed her too far and around to the far side of the poles. He actually seems indecisive as to how to handle the approach, and may have even made contact with JT - she seems to stumble.

October 08, 2005

The Puppy Puzzle

I am currently reading Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development edited by Pat Hastings and Erin Ann Rouse. It is a collection of articles by well known breeders and trainers such as Brenda Aloff and Karen Pryor.

The chapter Picking Your Agility Puppy could just as usefully be titled Picking Agility for your Puppy; Dusty came first, and I'll now decide whether agility is an activity we'll do together. In evaluating a puppy for agility, Elizabeth Barrett looks at structure first, then temperament.

  • Overall Balance: height, length, depth of body, and length of leg are in proportion, and puppy walks steadily and stops 'four square'.
  • Front Assembly: good shoulder angulation; strong, straight parallel front legs; tight cat feet and barely sloping pasterns will assist in sharp turns and shock absorbtion.
  • Rear Assembly: well proportioned with moderate angulation that will provide both propulsion and stability.
  • Back: too long and it will be susceptible to stress, too short and it will lack flexion.
  • noise tolerance
  • confidence
  • social attraction
  • toy interest.

October 04, 2005

Dusty and Jenna

Rosie has a chat to Deb ...

... about the course challenges.

Open Agility (ANKC)

This is my drawing of the opening sequence of the Saturday morning Open Agility course. There seemed to be as many ways of handling it as there were dogs running. I started with Thommo on my left and handled 1-2-3 with the Serpentine movement that Greg Derret teaches. This gave a nice line to the weave pole entry. An outstretched arm would send him out to 7, and 7-8 required a nicely timed and positioned front cross.

ACT Trials

We went down to Canberra last weekend for two trials: the ACT Companion Dog Club on the Saturday, and the Belconnen Dog Obedience Club on the Sunday. It was the Labour Day weekend so we had some travelling time, Floriade was in full swing, and Deb was bringing Rosie and Jenna, and Sophie, up from Melbourne so we had plenty of reasons for the trip.

Thommo was in one of his moods where he won't do the weave poles. He sees the poles, stops running, brings his head up and walks down the opposite side of the line of poles from me. He did the poles perfectly for the first couple of years we competed, then developed problems in trial situations. I handled the problem badly, trying to follow everyone's (different) advice, and now he'll have days where he does them beautifully, and days where he refuses to attempt them.

So I decided that the weekend runs would be about my handling, not his running. We had some great courses on which to do this. I particularly liked Murray's Open Agility on the Saturday morning, one of three nested courses, with appropriately interesting challenges at each level.