Monday, May 13, 2013

Happy Mother's Day from Hana


Happy Mother's Day from Boss

New Families, New Chapters

This week has been momentous.  I struggled against saying good-bye to dogs that I have owned but am not working for one reason or another but the time came this week to let them go.  It's a tough decision. There are folks who believe you should keep any dog you obtain forever. Just because.  Because I work my dogs and compete with them, if they are unable or unwilling (by nature) to do that, it is unfair to simply let them exist, to leave them behind as I go out with other dogs each day.  To do otherwise is to become a collector of left-behind dogs.  I am very happy with the new families of each of my dogs, who will cherish them and make them important in a way I could not, as the Most Loved.

Marco left on Sunday.  His new owners, Aimee and Jeff, had heard about him from a friend of mine who lives nearby to them.  They had lost their German Shepherd and heard that Marco was available.  Many of you remember Marco's story, and how he came to me.  I told Sherri's daughter, Dawn, about the situation because it was so important that this was okay.  I had such high hopes for Marco, echoing Sherri's own intentions for his future, but his hip Xrays showed a problem and so his future changed course. I was preparing for his BH at our trial in June and thought I would track him.  However, after taking him with me to training I noticed that he was coming out of the crate already limping and I knew I had a decision to make.   Aimee and Jeff came to visit and fell in love with him (of course!).

and this is how great they are--- by the time they got home they had a new crate for Marco and were inquiring where to get the schutzhund type training equipment I used!  Doesn't Marco look snug?

In the meantime, another family asked about Marco but he was too big and exuberant and not meant to be a fit for them, so I mentioned that I did have a female Dutch Shepherd, Ridley, who would be available.  I hadn't posted her or mentioned that at all.  Lord knows, I dragged my feet on making a decision about Marco!  But in that instant, I knew that if they liked Ridley, she should have her own home, too.  Ridley is a sweet, gentle girl who  I purchased as a puppy with the intention of breeding (her dam had the best PennHip score of all Dutch Shepherds) but unfortunately, her sire's genetics prevailed and hers were not as good as I wanted.  Definitely good, but not as tight as I was hoping.  Still not a deal-breaker but Ridley also did not have interest in protection work.  She was just a quiet, gentle girl.  Along came this wonderful family, and they fell in love with her. Jeannie even cooks eggs for her dogs and I know she will have lots of hugs and petting, and love every minute of it.

That was Sunday.  Today I got a phone call from a gentleman I had corresponded with regarding a Small Munsterlander, Excel.  He wanted to meet Excel on his way to his home in the Yukon Territory.  His previous SM had been a cast off from a professional trainer who had gotten angry at the dog and left her in the woods! Can you imagine?  He rescued the dog and contacted the trainer/owner who said she didn't hunt and he didn't want her.  Jim and the dog became best buddies and he learned to love birds and hunting as a result of all the exposure he was able to give her, in a gentle, accepting way.  He thought he might be able to do the same with Excel, who comes from a great hunting family but just never turned on to hunting.  However, as we walked around the property, Excel did the most perfect quartering, regularly returning to check in or flip to heel position.  He was using his nose and enjoying the scents.  I think they are a wonderful pair and look forward to hearing about their adventures!

It's a little strange to look at the past three days as a before-and-after and consider that so much has changed in such a short period of time.  I have no doubts that the decisions were good and all of the pups will be happy in their new homes.  Happier than watching everyone else go out to work and play and being left behind, which is why it was important to cut those strings and let them go.

The only dog left in the kennel who is not either retired or actively being trained is Chica, who was returned by her previous owner because of anxiety behaviors.  I use her for demos on clicker training and she is super clever.  She has been fine here in the kennel and although the previous owner had her medicated, I do not.  She is spayed.  She knows directionals.....

can jump through hoops for your love!

and bring you a chair.  She is that smart.

Imprinting vs exposure

Definition of imprint (n)

Bing Dictionary
  1. pressed-in shape: a pattern, design, or mark that is made by pressing something down on or into something else
  2. lasting effect: an effect that remains and is recognizable for a long time
  3. special mark: a printed or stamped sign on an object, e.g. to indicate its origin
I am posting this because a friend recently wrote that she had imprinted her pup on cadaver source.  This is something that I have heard before from SAR folk, and have always taken issue with it. I want to take this opportunity to explain why I feel strongly this is both a waste of time, and not advisable

 Some like to place source (Human Remains) and see how a pup responds and call this "imprinting".  Now tell me, if you put something dead and stinky out, what do you think a dog will do?  I venture to say that if a dog shows avoidance it is likely not because they aren't a candidate for HRD work but that they are a dog who lacks the innate curiosity and boldness that is desirable.  I keep chickens.  When the pups investigate the chickens and the inevitable tasty treats left behind, they wiggle with excitement, tails wagging.  Does this mean I am "imprinting" them on chicken shit? Not a chance.  They are exposed to the critters, and to many other new adventures and situations.  But it would be incorrect to define this as "imprinting".

Note that #2 of the definitions above is: an effect that lasts and is recognizable for a long time.  The simple placing of stinky dead stuff and exposing a pup to it once would not be considered "imprinting"  It is only exposure.  However, if a reward system was paired with the odor you would be building that long lasting impression.  This is what we do when we train detection dogs.  We teach them that a particular odor is rewarding by pairing the association with food or toy. I find this smell and I get my reward? wow!  After this, the final response is introduced and it becomes: find odor, give final response and get reward.  The results last and are recognizable.

When we select young adults for police service work, we test their prey and hunt drives in a variety of exercises.  I doubt that any of them were ever imprinted with the odors as puppies.  If they have the correct drives to pass the selection test, they can be trained to detect whatever it is you desire: narcotics, explosives, HRD, and etc. If it doesn't make a difference in the final selection for detection work, why is it important to imprint?  Answer: it is not. 

If not, then why bother to expose the dog to source?  As near as I can figure, it is because someone a hundred years ago carried down a stone tablet to the waiting SAR trainers which said "thou shalt imprint" and this attracts them to potential puppies to purchase.  If someone can explain to me why this makes sense to do with a pup instead of simply enhancing prey and hunt drives through training, I am interested to hear it.  Perhaps because you cannot give a dog drive it isn't born with , but you can expose it to dead things.  While this may, indeed, be a selling point for some, in the case of the pup in question, the exposure is not necessary at all.  I happen to own a littermate and they are incredibly confident and drivey dogs.

True imprinting can actually narrow your potential buyers and create problems.  For example, if you don't know what you are doing and you create a pairing of "I put this in my mouth and get reward" it is going to be a problem for many forms of detection and will leave the new buyer having to fix those early mistakes. For those of us who will not use pseudo source material for law enforcement detection dogs, if you have imprinted pups using pseudo, you have lost us as buyers. So why bother? If it does nothing to improve the pup and can actually pose a problem, don't do it.  Spend your time exposing the pup to things that matter such as new experiences, surfaces, climbing and crawling.  That is what I'll be doing.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hana shows off

Oh, Hana-Banana (Questa vom Gildaf) is so awesome!  If her owner ever decides not to keep her, she has a home here!  Little Missy was my demo dog... errr.. puppy today.  A new client visited with his puppy and the easiest thing to do was to use Hana to show him what I meant in the various behaviors.  I had done multiple series of scent circles previously and it was time to move forward, so I put in two scent circles and a third, from which her first track continued.  My visitor intends to do Search and Rescue with his puppy, but since the pup wasn't terribly interested in working for food today we couldn't track with it, so I showed him using Hana.  She happily cooperated with searching out her kibble in each footstep of the track.

Part of the problem with visitor-puppy was that the owner was luring it with the food and the puppy did not desire the food enough to push into his hand and work for it. Work ethic isn't something a puppy is born with; it is created.  Being a dog, a puppy would be perfectly happy to be cajoled and begged to try different treats and not work too hard, letting the silly human do all the work! So Hana got to demonstrate how driving for food looks, showing off her spins and heel position, moving off the hand and backing. We had worked with a board last night, tossing food and having her pause on the board.  Today I introduced the perch.  I had concerns about tossing food on the field and whether it would result in hunting for food instead of the pursuit thereof, but by using highly visible treats for that (string cheese/spam) none of that occurred.  I was able to toss the treats, have her run to them and run right back to me.

Lucky girl! She even took a turn showing what prey drive for the chamois looks like, and how to work the grip. Tug toys only come out as interaction with me.  Back at home, she only has "boring" chew toys.  The most fun stuff is held by me, the Goddess of All Good Things. 

Hana came out for 4 or 5 short sessions during the day.  Part of her education is simply the act of being crated and riding along for the day, in and out to potty and train.  I bag up her meal at the beginning of the day, and what hasn't been finished in training (she gets her own kibble on the track and in some obedience exercises), is finished with a send away.

And that was a day in the life of Hana.  She slept very soundly.... for about 3 hours.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Think outside the Catalog! Cheap-o training tools that do more

I took a photo of these training tools--  a rubber feed pan, a traffic cone and a bath mat--- to demonstrate that you do not need to break the bank on gimmicky training aids to get the job done.  It seems at each seminar, an instructor hawks items that you must have if you ever hope to reach the pinnacle of success he/she has achieved.  Or they have a crew building stanchions and boards and all manner of wood work. 

So what can you really accomplish with this random trip to Fleet Farm? Lets begin our cheap-o tour of tools with the rubber feed dish.  They come in varying sizes, depending on how big your dog is.  It needs to be large enough that the dog can comfortably place his/her front feet on the dish (notwithstanding that I did start to teach Chica to place her rear feet on perch as well).  Some people call this a "perch".  The dog learns hind-end awareness and movement on the perch. You can teach movement to heel position, and centering to front.  Placed on either side of the jump, it can be used to create muscle memory in the distance and work on the technical skill of jumping before adding the retrieve.  It can be used as a target on the send-away.  The dog can be taught to "hit the mark" as you toss food behind it and it returns to the perch and stabilizes.

The bath mat is just a simple thing to teach a dog to go to a "place."  I use it often with pet dog training.  Giving the dog a place to be instead of mugging the door, or dinner table, is helpful. When I flew with my Search and Rescue dog, I would always carry a rolled up mat or bed with my pack.  While waiting at airports, I would unroll the bed and Jinx knew that was her place to rest.  On the plane, I placed it at my feet.  The mat can help make boundaries clear for the dog.  Visually, if they stray from that place it is very clear, and different from the grass or floor.  If I need to make it more clear by elevating, I can place the mat on a board or even a folded crate. In practicing a long down it can be helpful to make it clear to the dog that no creeping is allowed.

And the cone?  Some years ago I noticed that a well known competitor carried with him a small, collapsible traffic cone.  He used it as a send-away target in practice and said it was something he could carry with him to any new field. That is a good idea, having something that the dog is familiar with from place to place.  I recently saw the traffic cone (a taller one) used to teach the dog to run blinds.  It started as the dog being rewarded to touch the cone, and then to move around it, teaching a tight search.  I have used the cones to mark a lane between the blind and the distance I will allow the dog from it, to teach them to run tightly, and idea that was adopted by another trainer.  None of these ideas are secrets.

Actually, you will find that Fleet Farm is an incredible resource. Need a tab? Spend $5 on a thin, puppy leash and cut it to the length you need.  Yes, they come in pink! Although they don't sell fur-saver collars, you will find other training collars about 1/3- 1/2 price in comparison.  Puppy carriers... only $25.  If are a 1970's holdover and still know how to macramé, buy para-cord there and make your own leashes and collars. Need a flirt pole to attach a piece of leather, for working puppies?  Try a lunge whip in the equestrian department.

 I know there are people who prefer to talk about how much money they spent building or buying the latest gadget-- and Lord knows, I own many of them myself!-- but there are enough things to spend money on in this sport, so if you can save a little here and there and use these common items to make good training, it might be worth trying.  Think outside the catalog box.

Monday, March 18, 2013

the Boss is Back!

Boss is back!  He has been with me for several weeks now and had to enlist in the Fat Farm program.  When he sat down he had rolls over his butt.  He had rolls over his withers.  He was just a chunky monkey, and that is simply no good for creating food motivation nor for a dog with a dysplastic hip.  Yes, sadly, the owner Xrayed him and discovered he is dysplastic.  I require Xrays prior to preparing a dog for schutzhund titles, to be fair to the dog.  I don't want to demand a dog jump who physically isn't able.  This does not mean that a dysplastic dog cannot jump or that they cannot compete; my former dog, Digit, is living proof of that!
However, it is critical that you are careful about their weight.  Too much weight on the joints will shorten the life of the dog.  You cannot judge the value of the dog on how much he weighs.  It took me several weeks to get him back in reasonable working weight, where he cared about working for his meals. Since he is registered to attend a seminar with Debbie Zappia next weekend, this was important!
Here is Boss, looking significantly more svelte, and practicing his "perch".  The perch is nothing more than a rubber feed pan purchased at Fleet Farm.  They come in a variety of sizes, from Boss-size to puppy suitable.  The dog can learn to go to the perch as a placement exercise.  The perch can then be used to teach the dog to relay back and forth, used as a send-away target or placed on each side of the jump to reinforce distance.  It can be used to teach the dog rear-end awareness, moving in heel position and pivoting with the front feet. It can also be used to teach the front position, as you see here.  How you hold your hand to deliver food determines which way the head, and therefore the rear, will move.
 Sometimes a dog needs a little help in understanding how to move their rear, especially if their rear is a long distance from me!  Here I am employing a hula hoop to guide his movements.  There is nothing magical about the hula hoop, it is simply a tool I had available.  Using the perch, Boss can practice centering himself to me, wherever I turn.  By the way, someone who saw these photos asked if Boss was a color termed "Isabella."  He is not.  He is a dark red/rust but due to the lighting and the dust, the color is not true in these photos.

Boss loves to jump up on me when he is happy.  I like it, too; just not all the time. So I put it on the command "bump" which gives him permission.  You can imagine how hard on the body that is at full tilt!  I am 5'9", to give you some size comparison.
 Here we are practicing the sit with attention.  I am using my hand as a target, marking and lowering the hand if we are continuing or allowing him to jump up if I terminate.  We also practice the tuck-sit (for fluency) and make sure that he is tucking his rear underneath him, leaving the front legs in place.

..and working the "back" command.  "Back" means to back up, independent on my movement.  This is not the same as following my left leg whether I move forward or back, but in understanding he can physically move backwards as I stand still.
Heeling.  Shaping his head position and shoulder to my left knee.  To look at this photo makes me laugh when I remember what it was like to work Boss on heeling when I first started.  He was all about the paws, and getting his front feet over my hand. Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy!
What I have to work on is keeping his butt straight, though.  I've tried several things; heeling in big circles, then figure 8's, adjusting my feeding position and even the hand I use, and moving off leash pressure.  I feel I am making progress but have not found the perfect solution yet.  As you can see, he tends to crab. I had introduced moving off leash pressure when I had him last summer, but since his return he has been very resistant to that.  Sometimes he will just sit down and not budge at all.  So, we went back to baby steps with that and he is improving.  I have been practicing having him move from a front position, moving off leash pressure to swing left and to my side and then back.
 And here is the Boss, practicing his down.  I usually end our sessions with a send-away to his meal (if he has given me effort in the rest of the lesson).  I place him on a down and he remains there until I return and send him.
We've made progress in the past several weeks and I'm looking forward to the Zappia seminar.   I think Boss has the ability to look very dynamic in his obedience, and his BH is on the agenda for spring.