High-excitement play, self control, and the Premack principle

Lest you all think my bond with my dog is broken, let me report that I love him as much as ever and have been having a blast training and playing with him lately. Sure, I have frustrated moments, but as a trainer I need to remember to take those opportunities to take a break and assess how I can change the situation to help Albee understand what I need from him in that moment. I'm slooooowly getting better at it. Baby steps.

This weekend both transversely and I were extraordinarily busy and out of the house almost all weekend, so I had to squeeze in as much exercise and mental stimulation as I could for poor Albee (and the birds) during the brief times when I was home. The flirt pole is always my go-to toy for quick, high-intensity exercise that gets Albee's tongue hanging out and sides heaving, so I took that out and did some play-training.

Since the flirt pole is one of the very few things Albee gets really excited about, I've been using it to build energy into some of his position change behaviors and to help him listen, think, and follow cues even while in high-excitement mode. I started out months ago by asking him to lie down, then rewarding him by releasing him to chase the flirt pole. He got so good at this that I can call out "Down!" while he's chasing the toy at top speed, and he will slam down onto the ground. I was quite pleased with myself (and him, naturally)!

Within the last few weeks, I've been working on sit. Albee got so good at down that for a while whenever I called out any cue he would slam into a down. I went back to kindergarten and stopped the play before asking him to sit. After a few reps, the lightbulb went on and he became quite good at responding correctly to either cue while chasing the flirt pole.

Yesterday, to give him a bit more mental challenge while he got his physical exercise, I added a third position cue into the mix: stand (my cue for "stop where you are" is "Wait," so I used that to get him to stop out of motion). Again, I slowed down the play the first few couple of times I asked for a stand, but very quickly he was stopping out of motion on my cue. I was really proud of how quickly he caught on!

I recently read this blog post about how certain kinds of exercise cause over-arousal in dogs, and how that over-arousal can cause hormonal changes that stay in the dog's body for days. I think the post has a lot of truth and good information in it, but I also think it's incredibly important for dogs to learn to get aroused and calm themselves down, and also to be able to focus and work in an aroused state. I certainly don't think it's a good idea to get a dog over-aroused and then try to train him, any more than I think it's a good idea to take your dog to the off-leash dog park to practice basic recall exercises: it's too much too soon. But one can start by getting a dog a bit excited and asking him to work with that level of stress in his system, and then gradually increase it.

I've been wrestling with this idea lately, since so many of my clients have adolescent dogs with more energy than they know what to do with. Many of them are also busy people, often with young kids, who need ways to burn off that doggy energy without spending hours doing it. I often recommend using a flirt pole, since it's an easy way to get a dog panting without spending an hour doing it or leaving your yard. However, I know firsthand how aroused chasing a flirt pole can make a dog. So what's more important: burning off that energy (in a way that's realistic for the family to manage), or keeping the dog from getting over-aroused?

Back to Albee and his weekend: I did some shaping later that evening for more brain work, and he was a rock star. He wanted to keep going even after I ended the session. It was pretty grueling for both of us to become a good shaper and shapee, but it's made such a huge difference in our relationship and in both of our lives. I adore having a problem-solving dog. I love having a frustration-tolerant dog. And I am ecstatic about having a dog who loves to be trained and to work with me.

Knitaholics not-so-anonymous

I always feel a bit forlorn after finishing a knitting project. It's like I'm missing a piece of myself.

As you may have guessed, I finished the shawl I started at ClickerExpo a couple weeks ago. I'd better hit the yarn store and pick up the yarn for my next project ASAP. ;)

Albee vs. the car - update

I am an avid reader of Susan Garrett's blog, newsletter, and any of her other writing or videos that I can get my hands on.

In one of her recent blog posts, she talked about using the Premack Principle to transfer value from behaviors the dog really wants to do into behaviors the dog isn't as keen on doing. Reading this caused a huge lightbulb moment for me. I've known about the Premack Principle for years (basically, you can use a behavior the trainee wants to do more to reinforce a behavior the trainee wants to do less, e.g. "Eat your broccoli before you get to eat dessert"), but I never really thought about the value transfer aspect until Susan Garrett spelled it out for me. Of course, that's how positive training works! If you do what I want you to do, you get to engage in a behavior you enjoy (eating tasty food, playing with a toy, etc). Soon enough, just like Pavlov's dogs, the act of doing the trained behavior elicits the happy feelings associated with eating food or toy play. (Sure enough, Albee's tail wags each time he does one of his cued behaviors.)

And what association am I trying to change right now? Albee's discomfort with riding in the car, of course! So I broke out the Premack Principle in a major way: I put his car harness (his doggy seatbelt) on EVERY time we go outside. I ask him to jump in the car and lie down before we go for a walk, dump the compost, play with the flirt pole, etc. If we're doing an activity in the yard, like playing flirt pole, I'll ask him to jump in the car and lie down many times during the play session and reward him by releasing him to chase me and the flirt pole.

I continued using some of his meals for car training, too: jump in the car, get a bite of food and get released to jump out. Over several sessions of this, he went from refusing to eat in the car (so I fed him the first couple of bites after releasing him from the car) to jumping in quickly on cue and lying down unprompted. He will now eat in the car while it is moving, and does minimal or no drooling (resulting in damp lips or a few drops on the seat, but not long, viscous drool strings hanging from his face).

I'll keep working on it, of course, but I'm immensely relieved at his progress!

Albee vs. men and Albee vs. the car

Albee has, on and off, exhibited fearful behavior toward men. It's mild but obvious - shying away when they try to touch him, keeping his distance, turning his head away as they lean over him. He doesn't do it with all men - a couple of my coworkers are solidly in his group of Happy People - but he does it with certain men, even some of those he sees often, who don't loom or get in his space, who have fed or tossed him treats on multiple occasions. The men he's afraid of don't look alike or smell alike (as far as I can tell), so I can't figure out why he's afraid of them.

This week he's been doing some shying away from men, so I'm doing some counter-conditioning work with him. When he shies away from a man, I start shaping him to voluntarily go touch the man with his nose and return to me for a treat. If he'll allow the man to pet him, I feed a constant stream of treats while he's being petted. So far he's been warming up to the men we've encountered pretty quickly and turning back into his happy-go-lucky, I-love-everyone self.

Then there's the car. A few weeks ago, something happened - I don't know what - and ever since then, Albee's been stressed during car rides. He drools, he won't eat in the car, he was hesitant to get in the car or even approach the car, and now he droops his tail when I get out his car harness. Yikes. To get him comfortable with the car again, I've been making jumping into the car a predictor of awesome things: he now has to jump into the car before we go on a walk in the woods, before we play with the flirt pole, etc. (Thank you, Susan Garrett for that idea! Hello, Premack!)

I've also started feeding his meals in the car: I open the car door and cue him to jump in. He does, and I offer him his food dish. The first time he jumps in, he usually refuses to eat, so I remove the dish and release him to get out. He then seems to understand that we're playing a game, so he turns around and jumps back in voluntarily and eats a couple bites of food. I then remove the dish and release him, and he jumps out and then back in. Repeat until the meal is finished. Sometimes he'll stop voluntarily jumping in when there's still a bite or two in the bowl, so I let him eat that bite on the ground next to the car.

He's still not entirely comfortable in the car - this morning we played the above game, and he continued to eat while I clipped him in, shut the door, walked around and got in the car and turned it on, but he stopped eating during the drive. However, he happily finished his meal immediately after I let him out of the car, which he wouldn't have done a week ago. So we're getting there.
jack sparrow - maybelline

50 books: #10-11

10. Room, by Emma Donoghue (fiction, audiobook)
I read and loved Emma Donoghue's novels in high school and college, so I was excited to read this one. It's a sweet (but also horrifying) story with a completely compelling 5-year-old narrator. The audiobook reader is absolutely fantastic. Highly recommended.

11. Crossed, by Ally Condie (YAF, dystopian fantasy)
The sequel to Matched. This one was pretty dull, and took me forever to get through. I probably won't read the third one.
me and icarus

50 books: #7-9

7. Divergent, by Veronica Roth (YAF, SF/F)
Another dystopian young adult novel. This one was awesome - I stayed up late at night to read it, and am waiting impatiently for the sequel to come out. (It's going to be a trilogy.)

8. Specials, by Scott Westerfeld (YAF, SF/F, audiobook)
Reread. Didn't enjoy this one as much as the first two.

9. Fire, by Kristin Cashore (YAF, SF/F, audiobook)
Reread. Enjoyed it, but far less than Graceling.
me and icarus

50 books: #42, #1-6

42. A Clash of Kings, by George R. R. Martin (fantasy, audiobook)

1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (historical fiction, audiobook)

2. Matched, by Ally Condie (YAF, dystopian fantasy)

3 & 4. Uglies and Pretties, by Scott Westerfeld (YAF, dystopian fantasy, audiobook)

5. Delirium, by Lauren Oliver (YAF, dystopian fantasy)

6. Birth Marked, by Caragh O'Brien (YAF, dystopian fantasy)
Really enjoyed this one too.

(Thanks to hope_persists for recommending those last two!
me and icarus

Changing habits

transversely and I don't really do new year's resolutions, but we do periodically try to change our habits or develop new, good habits.

So in that vein, here are a few new habits my household is trying to develop:

1. Flossing my teeth every day. I've been doing really well with this. I made myself a star chart for the first six weeks or so, and now I'm trying it without the star chart. If I fall off the wagon, back to the star chart I go.

2. Cleaning up the bird and rabbit room every day, instead of once a week. This has been AMAZING. Every night one of us goes in, scrubs the few poop spots off of the floor and windowsills and sweeps up the rabbit poop and bird crumbs. Once a week we clean the rabbit litterbox and mop the whole floor. It looks amazing in there, and it's so much less of a heinous chore than the big once-a-week cleaning was. Plus, it makes me feel like a much better pet mama.

3. Every time we go grocery shopping, we buy something to put in the Survival Center donation box. This is something a friend of mine did last year, and I thought it was a brilliant idea, so we've adopted it.
me and icarus

(no subject)

My @#$@#$#@$ Bad Parrot had a crazy moment yesterday and flew over and bit me hard on the ear. (Bad Parrot is Icarus, the stinker sitting on my shoulder in my icon picture.) It didn't bleed, but bruised badly enough that it was slightly uncomfortable to sleep on that side last night.

I know it was because I didn't give them enough attention this past week, and because we ran out of their usual homemade veggies-grains-and-beans diet and have been feeding them only pellets for the last couple of weeks, but still, it sucks to have one of your pets bite the @$#@$ out of you out of the blue (or so it felt).

Must make more bird food and do more training sessions with the birds. Sigh. At least the other parrot's crazy moments are much more predictable (NEW PEOPLE OMG) and thus easier to manage.

In happier news, I am totally, completely in love with teaching dog classes. I've got four running right now (well, one just ended on Saturday), and they are the best part of my whole week. I wake up on Saturday mornings thinking, "Oh boy, I get to go to work today!" I guess this is what people mean when they say "If you find a job doing what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." It's work, don't get me wrong, but I certainly don't do it for the money.

In Basic Manners class on Saturday, one guy saw me demo something with his dog and asked afterwards, "There was one time where she did it right, but you just petted and praised her instead of rewarding her with the toy. Is that what we're working toward?" I explained variable schedules of reinforcement, and always rewarding "average or better" behavior. As an example, I said, "You don't want your dog to think, 'Hey, why am I not getting paid anymore?'; you want her to think, 'Maybe THIS TIME my behavior will make the fun game happen!' This is why we make training into a game. If I went to my day job on Monday and my boss said, 'You've been doing such a good job that I'm now going to pay you only half as much,' I'd quit. But if I came to teach dog classes and the business owner said, 'I can't pay you this much anymore, so I'm going to cut your pay,' I'd keep teaching, because it's fun for me. That's how we want your dog to feel: like she can't wait for training time because it's so much fun."

As I said it, I realized how true it is. I am perfectly happy to give up a significant chunk of my free time to work my butt off, get slobber and pee and stinky dog treats all over myself, and do more vacuuming and mopping than I've ever done in my life, and I'd do it all even without pay. I'll even get up early on Saturday mornings to do it.

Sheesh, if only I could actually make a living doing this! Maybe someday...
me and icarus

Canning class!

Did I mention that I'm co-teaching a canning class during "interterm" (January) at the college where I work? This morning we had a planning meeting to check out the kitchen we were assigned, figure out what we'll be teaching (i.e. which foods we'll be canning), determine what equipment we'll need to bring in from home, etc.

Here's the plan so far:

Day 1 (4 hours):
- Prep apples for applesauce and put them into crock pots to cook down.
- Make jam or marmalade and water bath can it.
- During down times, talk about the principles of water bath canning.

Day 2 (4 hours):
- Water bath can the applesauce (some will be put through food mills, some left chunky).
- Peel and chop squash, put in crock pots to cook into squash butter.
- Prep for vegetable stock (use peels, guts, and seeds of squash); get it cooking in other crock pots.
- Prep apples for dehydrating and get them started.

Day 3 (2 hours):
- Pressure can the veggie stock.
- Water bath can the squash butter.
- Eat the dehydrated apples.

Sadly, the kitchen we got is a long, skinny galley kitchen with a four-burner electric stove. (We may beg for one of the house kitchens that isn't used for meal prep; having an industrial stove and more room to maneuver would be glorious.)

If anyone has any ideas for good jam-like recipes we can make with winter fruits, feel free to suggest them! One of my co-instructors has a great pear marmalade recipe, and I suggested orange marmalade, but I've never made it before so I don't have a recipe I know is great.