Posts Tagged 'dog training videos'

Our Recent Public Access Achievements

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival graphic. A square graphic, with a lavender background. A leggy purple dog of unidentifiable breed, with floppy ears and a curly tail, in silhouette, is in the center. Words are in dark blue, a font that looks like it's dancing a bit.

We're achieving another great carnival!

The theme for the fifth Assistance Dog Blog Carnival is “Achievement.” Barnum and I had two very exciting outings recently — one caught on video — which I’m very excited to share with you. It’s perfect timing for the carnival.

The achievements that Barnum and I celebrate are not the successes of a graduation or a title. Rather, they are small steps that are leading us — oh, so slowly, it often seems — along the path to a working partnership. I don’t think we have a single behavior that I can say is truly finished — not just service skills, but basic obedience and manners, too. Working on so many little skills day after day, it becomes hard to observe that any improvement is taking place. That’s why a day like last week — or last month when we first went into a store — is such a big deal: the improvements are a stark contrast to previous efforts, clear enough for me to notice and revel in them.

This past Thursday I had my biannual appointment with my primary care doctor. The appointment itself was completely useless. (More about that another time.) However, I brought Barnum with me — even though he couldn’t come inside — with hopes that we’d do some training in the parking lot after my appointment. My driver and assistant took care of him during the appointment.

Barnum and I have really only started public access work in the last couple of months. He went into a store — the small village coop in a nearby town — for the first time on September 12. I had someone along who could video the event, which is very unusual. Below is the movie I made of it. (Like the combination treat pouch/leash belt I’m wearing? I got it from Mimi of, and I love it!)

(If you’re reading this post as an email, click here to view the video.)

Click here to read a transcript of the video.

Click here to watch the video with captions.

But wait, there’s more! Fast-forward to a week ago. As I mentioned, Barnum had to stay in the van with my driver while I had my appointment. In my state, there is no public access for teams in training, so where you are able to go is dependent on the goodwill of the managers of such establishments. My doctor told me that their policy is that a SD team is not allowed in unless the dog is finished training. (These policies seem much more prevalent today than when I trained Gadget or Jersey. I wonder whether this is due to the boom in partner-training SDs — and private and program trainers, too, for the record — who are not yet skilled enough trainers, or not familiar with and careful of laws and etiquette around public-access SDs, creating negative perceptions of SD teams or SDiTs.)

Anynoodle, there is still much that can be done in parking lots or on sidewalks or at the locales that are SDiT-team friendly. Thus, after my appointment, I dressed Barnum in his snazzy working gear. We had a couple of “oopses.” One, which has never happened before, and which I hope never happens again, is that Barnum jumped the gun on exiting the van. He has gotten pretty good at staying inside until he is cued to exit. For whatever reason, though, today he jumped out while leashless. This was scary because we were in “the city” (for my area), and there was actual traffic beyond the parking lot. However, my helper snagged him, I walked him back to the van, and he jumped back in. Disaster averted. First note of something to work on more!

Then, we did some automatic sits before exiting (which is what he should have done instead of just hopping out previously), and I cued him to jump out and sit, which he did. I was pleased he was so focused on me and that I got such a fast and snappy sit. I had him sit-stay while I moved around, and then we were off.

Here’s how Barnum made my day:

  • Focus. Barnum kept focus on me and loads of eye contact the whole time. That is the foundation for everything else. I was thrilled by it.
  • Happiness. Barnum’s tail was up and wagging. His step was springy. He showed no signs of fear or vigilance (except one startle issue, which I’ll get to shortly). He was totally in the game and enjoying himself. At one point, I said, “Back up,” and instead of just walking backward, he leaped backward. He does the bouvie-bounce/pounce/spring thing when he’s loving training.
  • Loose leash. I didn’t even realize until we were on the way home that Barnum never pulled on the leash except at the end, when another dog was right nearby, whining at us.
  • Positional cues. I asked for sits, downs, nose touches, chin targets, backing up, standing up, coming to my side, and Barnum was about 90 percent reliable on all cues.
  • Toileting. When we were first heading from the parking lot to the sidewalk, I could tell that Barnum wanted to go sniff and mark the lawn, bushes, and flowers we were approaching. However, I kept him busy and focused on me, and he either realized that marking and sniffing was not acceptable, or he was too focused on working to care. When we were finished training, I took off his pack and harness and brought him to the grass and cued him to pee. He offered a short squirt, which I was very pleased about. It indicated to me that he probably did know the cue (as soon as I said, “Hurry up,” he started looking around the grass, circling, and sniffing) and that he was doing his best to follow it, even though he didn’t need to go. It’s possible that he was just marking, now that he had the opportunity, but I’m okay with that as a stepping stone to a more solid elimination on cue. This is the first time he has eliminated on cue in a totally new environment!
  • Transferring new cues from home – Part I: Door Opener. These were the ones that really thrilled me. Barnum has never touched a door opener before. The door opener for the external door at my doctor’s office is a silver vertical rectangle — not at all the shape I thought I’d remembered! At home, we’d been practicing the moves that would apply to a door opener — the same ones as for turning on or off a light switch — but my faux door-opener was a big blue paper square! The real door button was about three feet high and placed on the pane between the glass door and window. I held my hand over the button and had him nose-target my hand a few times. He could reach it without jumping up, but only just. He had to stretch his nose all the way up. . . .
  • Then I pointed at the button and told Barnum, “Touch!” He just barely bumped the bottom of the button, but that was enough; the door immediately swung outward. Barnum jumped back in surprise. I gave him extra treats and praise, along with the initial click/treat, and we did that a few more times. He hit the button every time, and he was surprised by the door every time, but with successively decreased concern. I think we’ll have to practice this many times before he is totally comfortable with the door swinging open. It’s the one area he has always had anxiety — doors swinging toward him from the front or the rear. (When he was temperament tested at seven weeks old, a solid object moving suddenly toward him was the only part of the test that scored poorly on; everything else was perfect or near-perfect, and those results were surprisingly predictive of his future behaviors and tendencies.) So, the fact that he continued to press the door opener and did not wig out — in this completely new environment, to boot — seemed like a good sign to me.
  •  Transferring new cues from home – Part II: The Retrieve. We have not yet achieved a complete trained retrieve at home. Barnum will take something from my hand, hold it quietly for a pretty long time, and then — on my cue — will drop it. But he hasn’t figured out that picking things up off the floor can be handled the same way as taking things from me. So, our big effort has gone into the take/hold part of the retrieve. It had not even occurred to me to try this skill away from home yet. . . .
  •  Then, something happened — I can’t remember what anymore — where I was holding something out, and he went to take it in his mouth! I had not been looking for that, but I was able to click and treat it. “Why not?” Says I to myself. So, I held out a pen — the object he’s the most eager and comfortable taking and holding — and we did a few repetitions of that. Well, knock me over with a feather!

I was bringing him back to the van to load up and leave when a woman parked next to me with a boxer in her car. Barnum was still paying attention to me, not the boxer, so I was eager to get out of there before he could start practicing some bad behavior, such as pulling to get to the other dog, and for all I knew, jumping up to get a sniff. (Our biggest distraction is other dogs. Our second biggest distraction is people — strangers. Barnum feels the need to greet/sniff them and inquire as to whether they’d like to give him attention or food.)

Unfortunately, this woman wanted to chat me up about my “service dog.” I had to correct her that we were in training, because Barnum was not comporting himself as a trained SD should, and I don’t like to spread any more misinformation about SDs than already exists. Then, she wanted to tell me about how her dog, the one she is leaving in the car who is wearing no gear, is a service dog, too, and perfectly eager for our dogs to interact! Usually if I say, “We’re training,” in a very “read-between-the-lines-please” voice, people back off a bit, but not this woman. Trying to focus on getting Barnum refocused and loaded into the van while not getting downright rude to this stranger meant that I lost control of the situation, and Barnum decided that, yes, it would be acceptable to pull like a freight train to get to the boxer, who had started to whine.

Somehow, finally, I managed to ignore the other person enough to get Barnum loaded, and then he settled down. On the way home, we did lots more practice with taking and holding objects, and various simple skills, and I was just over the moon.

Outings like this are extremely helpful in showing which behaviors have jelled and can be taken to the next level, and which need some remedial attention. The trip made it clear the areas we need to work on most: Leave it/zen for people, leave it/zen for dogs, more work with moving-door-related fear, and more work on default sit before and after exiting the van. But on the way home, the refrain in my head was, “Go, Team Barnum! Woohoo!”

-Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and future door-opener of my world

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the ADBC, read past issues, check out the schedule for the next few carnivals, or learn how to get involved, please visit this page about the Assistance Dog Blog Carnival.

P.P.S. You know what was really an achievement? Completing this post! I had so much difficulty creating and uploading that video — it took a week! — and then when I finally did get it uploaded, I discovered I had left out a segment in the middle and had to create and upload a new version! All future videos will be much shorter!

L3 Homework: Why Won’t My Dog Do What I Ask?

I promised I’d eventually catch you up on where Barnum and I are in on training. It won’t be chronological, so consider this part of an intimate peek into the brain of someone with fractured thinking. (You’re welcome!)

Sometime soon, I hope to post:

  • All the socialization experiences Barnum had when he was ages 9 to 16 weeks;
  • The videos and/or descriptions of the Level Two tests we passed;
  • The videos and/or descriptions of the Level Three behaviors he has already passed;
  • Various other training tidbits and milestones.

Today, let’s just pretend you already are caught up on the fact that we passed L2 several months ago, and are now itching with a deep and abiding curiosity to know my homework for L3.

The homework for Level Three of Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels is this:

Handler lists, in writing, ten reasons why a dog might not perform a required behaviour.

This question asks, in essence, “Why might a dog not perform a behavior that the handler/trainer believes the dog knows?”

Reasons do not include, “He’s stubborn,” or “She’s stupid.”

Here is my list, which I actually wrote a few months ago, when we were first embarking on L3.

1. He might be distracted.

This is a big one for us. I can ask Barnum to sit, and as he starts lowering his butt to the floor, any of the following can literally stop him in his tracks: a gust of wind (which carries scents to be sniffed or blows leaves to chase), a person speaking (even whispering or just saying one word), something moves (a bird flies past the window, someone else walks by), he hears/sees/smells another dog, etcetera. If he can see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense it, it can be distracting.

2. He might hear the cue wrong (have trouble distinguishing the sounds of two cues).

For example, I discovered that “Watch” (my former cue for eye contact) and “Platz” (my cue for down), sound very similar to Barnum, and he sometimes got them confused. For this reason, I changed the cue for eye contact to “Watch me!” and made the inflection very different, both of which seem to help.

Similarly, he might see the cue wrong — have trouble differentiating between two hand signals, which has also happened to me, and I’ve had to alter one a bit to make it clearer. This has happened with us with the cues for sit and stand, and with the cues for nose-targeting (“Touch!) and down.

3. He might be following a pattern that you have unknowingly taught, so that he is not following the cue you think you’re giving, but following the pattern he anticipates.

I remember reading in Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog! about how she had to inform another dolphin trainer that her dolphins were not jumping based on the hand signal she was using as a cue, but were instead jumping at even intervals that the trainer had unknowingly trained.

For this reason, I try to be aware of patterns of timing, or behavior chains, but sometimes I unintentionally train a pattern or chain anyway. For example, at some point, I must have done a pattern of sit, down, stand, down, with Barnum a few times, even though I know I didn’t do it consistently in any given session or in every session.

Nevertheless, I’ve done it often enough that Barnum, after being clicked and treated for a sit and a stand, would automatically offer down, no matter what I asked for. I’ve been working on scrupulously shaking it up.

4. He might be following environmental cues you aren’t aware of.

This “Oops” moment was featured in my video of Barnum passing L2 stand-stay.

At the beginning of this taped training session, I tried to work on eye contact, and Barnum — who had never done this before — barked each time I said “Watch.” I realized that, yes, “bark” and “watch” sound a little similar, but I don’t think that was all that caused the confusion.

First of all, at that point, Barnum was pretty good at recognizing the hand signal for “Bark!” but not the spoken cue; and so far, I have not taught him any hand signal for “Watch me.” For another, we had mostly worked on “Bark!” and “Quiet,” at night, and in the kitchen/living room. On the other hand, we primarily worked on eye contact in my bedroom, usually during daylight. It seemed to me that he was offering barking because that’s what the environment suggested I would ask for.

5. The dog might respond to unintentional cues given by the trainer/handler.

Speaking of hand cues, Barnum is a master at interpreting body language. Very often, he cues off of the position or movement of my eyes, hands, arms, head, and probably other things I’m not aware of, when I give a command.

Then, if my head, eyes, hands, or arms do that (whatever that is) while I’m asking for a different behavior, he performs the behavior that he’s come to associate with my body movement or position.

For example, without my being aware of it, we apparently did a lot of training of the “down” position when my arms were hanging down or palm-up in my lap. I was more likely to have my hands in fists or resting palm-downward on my lap for “sit.” None of this was conscious on my part.

I became aware of these tendencies when I started to give Barnum verbal cues only for “sit” or “down,” and noticed that he first looked at my hand position before deciding which behavior to offer. What I said was much less meaningful to him than my unconscious hand-shapes.

For instance, if I said “Sit,” and my arm was hanging down or palm-up in my lap, he would down instead. I had to retrain these cues by moving my hands a little bit with each repetition from the positions he associated with the behavior to completely different postures, and then randomizing them.

Even putting your hands behind your back — which many savvy clicker trainers do — does not always work to prevent unintentional cueing. For example, I discovered that I unconsciously tipped my chin up and looked at Barnum’s rump when I cued him to sit.

I learned that I could cue a sit simply by moving my eyes (to look at his hindquarters) or very slightly raising my eyebrows. Below is a video of me cueing Barnum to sit or down without using voice or hand signals. Or watch the captioned version of the video here.

Read the transcript of the video here.

6. You might be using a poisoned cue.

A poisoned cue is one that has come to either have a negative or potentially negative association for the dog, or one that doesn’t “work” anymore because it has become meaningless. Examples of the former include when the handler intentionally does something that the dog finds aversive, such as punishing an incorrect response, or when “shit happens,” such as when you are just introducing your cue, “Up the stairs!” and the dog’s metal dinner bowl comes clanging down the stairs at that exact moment as he is climbing them. (This is not a theoretical example, I’m sorry to say!)

An example of a meaningless cue as a poisoned cue is if you call your dog to come to you, and she ignores you and continues to sniff the exciting smells she’s enjoying, or playing with another dog, or chasing a squirrel, or whatever is more rewarding than coming to you. After you have done this a few times, you’ve taught your dog that, “Fido, come!” has no connection to Fido stopping what he’s doing to run over to you.

It is possible to have a poisoned cue and not realize it.

7. The dog may not like to do the behavior or feel comfortable with it in certain circumstances.

For example, if you ask your dog to down when there is another dog nearby that your dog feels may be a threat, your dog might be apprehensive about taking this submissive posture around the “scary” dog. Some dogs, such as Jersey, really hate lying down on a wet surface, such as a sidewalk that is damp.

8. He might have a brain fart.

Yes, that’s the technical term.

Seriously, I’ve seen this happen with all my dogs at one time or another. For example, occasionally I will give Barnum a cue he pretty much knows, and he clearly knows he’s supposed to do something, but it’s just escaped him. He’ll look at me like, “What? I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?” And if I do, he does the behavior just fine.

9. There might be a physical or medical reason the dog doesn’t want to do the behavior.

A few months ago, Barnum mysteriously began ducking his head when I tried to pet him on the head. In the past, I had worked a lot with him on first tolerating, and then enjoying, being petted on the head.

“What’s gone wrong?” I thought.

I had all sorts of ideas, relating to fear, linking head petting to other things we were training, etc. I kept trying to retrain it and getting nowhere. It turned out that he had an infected cyst over one of his eyes, and it was painful. He didn’t want to be touched anywhere in the vicinity. After one day of antibiotics, he was perfectly happy to have his head petted again.

10. You have (intentionally or unintentionally) raised the criteria for the behavior, and it’s too big a jump for the dog to understand what’s being asked of him.

This is where the famous “Four Ds” come in: duration, distance, difficulty, and distraction.

Friend of the blog and terrific Training Levels trainer, Eileen has given me permission to post her excellent videos on this subject (Eileenanddogs on youtube). Updated note! These videos are all either captioned now or on their way to being captioned. Definitely the first one (“The Missed Cue”) is already captioned, and likely, the others, as well.

She started with “The Missed Cue.” This video shows both her dogs responding correctly to a cue (“go to mat”) many times until suddenly, neither of them understands what to do anymore. A difference of a few inches is the culprit!

Eileen continues the series with, “Missed Cue: Paw Touch.” This video shows how previous reinforcement history can affect the response to a cue the dog otherwise seems to know. (This is not exactly the same as #2 in my list, above, but it is similar.)

In “The Missed Cue: Generalization,” one of Eileen’s dogs does not responding correctly to a cue because she hasn’t generalized to a change in the environment. (A different environmental change than I mentioned in #4, in my list above, but similar, because the object in this case is acting as a sort of cue.)

Onward! Upward! Outward! But first, to sleep.

-Sharon, Gadget (the Great Generalizer), and Barnum (SDiT, still young, but with an expanding mind)

Level 2 Tests, Part 2

Here are more Training Levels tests videos! By now it’s been three weeks since we made these, and we are still practicing and refining the skills at these levels, as well as building the other skills not-yet-tested for Level Two.

A note on accessibility: The YouTube captioning program is, um, extremely limited, to put it nicely. Their software uses an algorithm to match captions to spoken English in the video. This does not work if, oh, say, you usually have a lot of background noise (such as wind or powerchair motor noises); or important noises that are not language (such as the sound of the clicker); and/or you’re not speaking clear English (which is true when my voice isn’t working well or at all, in which case I might also sign). Thus, it took hours of painstaking work to make some badly captioned videos, while other videos were totally impossible to caption at all.

However, the lovely and delightful Anna of Forward/FWD and Trouble Is Everywhere, pointed me toward dotSUB: Any Video, Any Language, which has software that is so much better. You can caption any ol’ damn video you like, regardless of language. Unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me embed the dotSUB video directly, like I can with YouTube.

Sooo, from now on I’m going to embed the non-captioned YouTube videos, and provide links to the captioned version and to the video description/transcript. I wish it weren’t so clunky, but there it is — if we make the internet accessible, then anyone can use it.

Also, here is the captioned version of the video from my previous post that I was not able to caption via YouTube:

On to the fun stuff!

We are still working on Level Two (L2), but I’ve moved us ahead on Zen (“Leave It”) to Level Three (L3), because, in general, we rock the Zen. (If you decide to watch only one of these videos, watch the L3 Zen test, to see Barnum clowning it up about thirty seconds in.)

Please note: Normally when we train, I make sure there are no distractions (unless they’re planned), and Barnum is really excited to train. We are both focused. This is probably the most important factor I’ve learned from Sue Ailsby’s method [scroll down to the bottom at this link] — Is the dog In The Game?

However, when we test, there’s someone else there filming — sometimes more than one person — and I have to try to remember what the criteria are for each test. I get nervous about the camera, too. Thus, I have a hard time focusing on the training/Barnum. All of these things affect Barnum’s focus, too. So, please don’t think we are normally this flaky and distracted when training! (My timing with the clicker is particularly abysmal.) Barnum has an excuse — he’s only seven month’s old — but cognitive issues or not, there is never an excuse for the trainer! Ah well.

This is the first part of our L2 Crate test — the crate in my bedroom. The criterion for Level Two crate is that the dog enters the crate with no more than two cues, allows the door to be opened and shut, with no pawing or vocalizing.  This is the crate we use the most. We had a false start, but I decided to consider it a fluke, because we use this behavior all the time. The non-captioned version is below. See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.

This is part 2 — the crate in the living room. Ironically, though we use this crate a lot less, Barnum does better in this part of the test, pretty much because we had the two previous sessions in the bedroom (practice!). See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.

This is our L2 Distance Test. I never taught this as a distinct skill before, but I’m loving it. I already use it sometimes when I’m sitting in bed and I want Barnum to come around my wheelchair from one side or the other. I can tell we can use this one a lot in the future. The criteria are that the dog must go around a pole or other object two feet away from the handler, with no more than two cues. See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.
Finally, our L3 “Zen” Test. The dog must leave alone food in a stranger’s hand for 20 seconds, one cue only. (I wrote “40 seconds” in the description that accompanies the video, but that’s wrong.) He met my neighbor once before, but he was focused on her dog that day, so he doesn’t really know her. (Though we do still have some work to do with manners, as you’ll see when he starts to snorffle her pockets!) See the captioned version here. Read the description and transcript here.

Comments are always more than welcome!
-Sharon, Barnum, and the Muse of Gadget

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