Posts Tagged 'dog zen, zen, leave it, puppy zen'

Photo Essay: A Visit from Mina the Basenji

On Sunday we had a visit from a Basenji named Mina. I couldn’t resist the opportunity of working with a different dog — and an unusual breed of dog — which also afforded me the chance to work on Barnum’s self-control in a novel situation: focusing on me and holding stays when another dog was getting trained inside his house. Despite that I was really too sick — I have been paying the price since — it was an educational experience for all of us, I think. (Mostly for me!)

Mina very helpfully let me know our starting place should be Four-on-the-Floor.  (I’ve noticed that enthusiastic, food-driven dogs, especially small- or medium-sized dogs, tend to jump up with their paws on my lap because I’m sitting instead of standing.)

Sharon in her powerchair in front of glass doors with snowy wonderland behind. Mina, a small brown-and-white Basenji with prick ears and a curly tail, has her front paws on Sharons lap, nosing her hands that hold treats. Barnum is heading for his mat next to Sharons chair.

Beginning session: Barnum needs direction, Mina needs self control.

I started with ignoring her when she was on my lap and clicking/treating when her paws were all on the ground. A couple of times I lured her to get her paws off. I c/t Barnum for staying on his mat and not nosing into my session with Mina. He has a lifetime of clicker experience, whereas Mina was learning the clicker and everything else in a new environment — a big challenge. Barnum had a pretty clear idea of what was being asked of him or of behaviors to try to get treats, whereas Mina was really excited that she was getting all these treats without a clear idea of why at first. I bet she slept well that night!

But positive reinforcement works even before the learner has comprehended the “why,” so we were able to quickly move to having all her feet on the ground even before she’d figured out the clicker.

Mina is now standing on the floor in front of Sharon. Barnum sits next to Sharon on his mat. Sharon is feeding him a treat.

Mina now has four-on-the-floor and Barnum’s sitting on his mat.

Mina sits facing Sharon. Barnum lies on his mat. Both dogs are looking up at Sharons face.

We move on to “sit” for Mina and down-stay for Barnum.

Barnum lies on his mat, watching Sharons face. Mina stands on hind legs, one paw resting on Sharons seat, the other scratching at Sharons closed fist.

Hm, we’re back to paws-on-lap. Can you see what I’m doing wrong to cause this?

Hint: I’m not used to working with little dogs! I’m used to working with a dog for whom my lap is nose height!

Also, see how she’s pawing at my hand, above? That was interesting for me. I’ve taught a few dogs the beginning steps of Zen, and she was the first who tried lots of different strategies — biting, pawing, licking, etc., before finally backing off at all. Very smart and persistent. She’s a problem-solver. Using her paws like that reminded me of a cat.

Barnum lies on his mat, watching Sharon. Sharon is leaning over to hold her closed fist in front of Minas nose. Mina is sniffing Sharons hand intently.

Once I moved my fist down to nose level, Mina kept “four on the floor” to learn Zen.

But this position (above) was not sustainable for me, physically, so I adjusted. . . .

Sharon sits on the floor with her back to the glass door. Barnum on her right is lying on his mat with his chin resting between his paws. Mina stands in front of Sharon, gazing at her first.

I get on the floor to present my fist at nose height for Mina to learn Zen. Barnum chin targets the mat as his duration behavior.

Below is another behavior I’m not used to! Mina decided she’d had enough training and just hopped right onto my powerchair seat. I laughed really hard. A large, more cautious dog like Barnum learned to jump and sit in my powerchair after several shaping sessions. It took a lot of careful balancing for him. Meanwhile, Mina, the little, bold, curious, and nimble thing, just nipped up there herself as if she’d been doing it all her life. She wanted to see what she could see, I think. Or she was pretending to be a spaceship captain. Or both?

Barnum lying on his bed and Sharon sitting on the ground both look up at Mina sitting very erect and poised in Sharon's powerchair, staring out the window at the snowy landscape.

Call me Captain Mina! Full throttle, ready for blastoff!

What a way to start the new year!

– Sharon and Barnum, SD

P.S. Mina was gracious enough to let me back onto my chair once she’d finished training me to give her treats.

Dog Zen: Dog Impulse Control/”Leave It” Video

I recently posted some pictures of Barnum doing “pie zen” for Thanksgiving. The term comes from Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. Zen is teaching a dog to get what it wants by not trying to get it. (Thus the name.)

Once you attach a cue to zen, it becomes the “leave it” cue for most of us.

There is also training “default zen,” which is when the dog learns, for example, not to snork up any food that’s on the floor unless they are specifically cued to do so. This is a very important skill for assistance dogs, so it’s one I’ve worked on with Barnum. Another way to teach this is Susan Garrett’s “It’s Yer Choice.” (Is it just me, or does it seem like a lot of clicker trainers are named Sue?) I’d started combining the two methods before I learned about It’s Yer Choice. Now I’m going back and retraining it some to fill in holes.

This video highlights mostly default zen, but it also shows how I can cue Barnum to eat treats on the floor or to ignore them. We had already been training this skill when one of my training heroes, Marge, the Rhodesian ridgeback rescuer and trainer, posted this video showing impulse control, which she trained via Susan Garrett’s method. Well, not to sound snooty or anything, but when I saw that video (and being a fan of musical theater), I thought, “I can do that.”

Then, Lynn, another trainer from whom I’ve learned much and who is on the same training list as Marge and me, tried it out in a similar fashion with her Weimeraner service dog, Lily and posted this video of it. She trained using the Levels zen method.

So, it seemed the gauntlet had been thrown down. Barnum and I may not be tops at everything. But he is getting to be quick the rock star in certain zen challenges. Okay, maybe “rock star” is a bit much, but it certainly looks impressive, doesn’t it? Well, see for yourself:

Note: If you are reading this post as an email, click here to watch the video.

A captioned version of the video is here.

Transcript of the video is below my signature.

You might notice that I say, “Leave it,” in a mellow tone. I’m not snapping or yelling it. Others use other cues, such as, “no.” Sue says it took her many years of clicker training (after crossing over from traditional training) to be able to use “no” in this way — not as a rebuke, but as a cue. I know that I am not yet capable of that.

Her new Training Levels books, Steps to Success, indicate that the cue is to be given in a “please pass the butter” tone of voice. I have started practicing whispering, “Leave it.” I might see how quietly I can say it and still have Barnum respond. He has excellent hearing, so my guess is that as long as he is focused on me — always the sticking point! — if it’s barely audible, he’ll respond.

I wanted to point this out because recently I had some guests, and one of them kept trying to cue Barnum to do a behavior (go to mat), which he wasn’t doing. I’m pretty sure the problem was that Barnum doesn’t completely know that cue yet. Since has only ever been given that cue by me before, and the person was not pointing to the mat (which would have given him an additional clue as to what was wanted), he didn’t recognize the cue.

Another guest told her, “You have to say it in a forceful tone of voice.”

The first person pointed out that I didn’t use a forceful tone. I was pleased to see that she noticed that.

This is one of the differences between a cue and a command. A cue is something that indicates to the dog that if they do something, they might get a reward for it. Thus, it doesn’t matter how you say it.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget (whose “Leave it” was nowhere near this good, ever), and Barnum, SDiT and rising Zen Master

Video Description:

Sharon sits on toilet in small bathroom. Barnum is standing nearby. Sharon has a tray of beef cubes in her lap.

Sharon: OK, I’m gonna toss 10 cubes of raw beef heart on the floor.

Barnum looks at the meat on the floor and then looks at Sharon.

Sharon: Yes! I’m giving him one from my hand.

Barnum eats the treat and then looks at the meat on the floor again, then looks back up at Sharon.

Sharon: Barnum, sit.

Barnum sits.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum starts eating the food on the floor.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs away from the treats. He has eaten two pieces.

Sharon: Barnum, platz.

Barnum lies down and looks up at Sharon.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum begins eating the meat.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs away from the food. He has eaten three pieces. He looks up at Sharon again.

Sharon: Good dog.

She holds out her hand in front of Barnum’s nose.

Sharon: Touch.

Barnum nose-targets Sharon’s palm. Sharon moves her hand above his head and cues “touch” again, and then again lower down. At the third touch, Sharon says, “Yes! Go ahead.”

Barnum starts to eat the meat, but just as he’s about to eat the first piece, Sharon interrupts him.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs up.

Sharon: Go ahead.

Barnum sniffs and looks at the ground between Sharon’s feet but ignores the five pieces of beef that are still on the floor.

Sharon: Alright, foot!

Barnum gives Sharon a front paw.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats one cube and is about to eat a second.

Sharon: Leave it.

Barnum backs up and circles the food, looking at it from a different angle.

Sharon: Watch me.

Barnum makes eye contact with Sharon.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats the piece closest to him, which is a little farther away from the remaining three pieces of food. He looks at them and seems to decide he shouldn’t eat them. He looks at Sharon.

Sharon: Barnum, platz.

Barnum lies down.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum gulps down the first two pieces of meat.

Sharon: Leave it.

He looks up at Sharon and backs away from the remaining treat.

Sharon: Good dog.

Barnum lies down and looks at Sharon.

Sharon: Good boy. Yes!

Sharon gives Barnum a treat from the tray in her lap. He eats it and looks down at the remaining treat on the floor and then up at Sharon.

Sharon: Yes!

Sharon gives him another treat from her hand, from the tray in her lap.

Sharon: [To herself] Let’s see. [To Barnum] Chin!

Barnum rests his chin in Sharon’s palm.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats the treat on the floor closest to him. He looks up at Sharon again.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum looks around but doesn’t move to eat a treat.

Sharon: I didn’t give him anything to do so he doesn’t believe me. Foot!

Barnum gives Sharon a paw.

Sharon: Yes! Go ahead.

Barnum eats the last piece of meat on the floor.

End.

Winsome Wednesday: Encouraging Words

I’m not up to writing Part II of “A Typical Atypical Day in the Life…” because I’m too sick today. That’s pretty typical of living with CFIDS, and Lyme, and MCS, though!

I can only manage a short blog right now.

Today was another good day, if not physically, then emotionally. It was a winsome Wednesday, therefore I’m not feeling particularly waspish, so I’m taking the week off from Waspish Wednesday.

I wrote to Sue Ailsby (AKA Sue Eh?), creator of the Training Levels, my dog-training guru whom I so much admire. (In addition to being a great trainer, she is also kind, honest, and very funny.)

I sent her the video I posted on youtube yesterday, although with the link to my post from a couple of days ago about how I think Barnum may work out as a service dog (or SDiT, right now), after all.

This was her response, which she gave me permission to publish:

Oh Sharon, that’s SO good. The biggest, most important thing you said in your blog was that he’s lost his Zen. That says it for me – and says it about you, too, because most people just get annoyed when something like that happens, and don’t go far enough to see WHY it happened. I can’t think of anything more hopeful you could have said than that he’s losing his Zen. That’s WONderful!

I felt so happy when I read that. This is the paragraph from my previous post that Sue’s referring to:
Barnum’s “zen” has also suddenly gotten worse, which is a good sign, actually. He was ridiculously easy to train in zen (“Leave it”) because food was not that exciting to him. Now he has to think about it more — how badly do I want that morsel? I’m perfectly happy to rework our zen in exchange for a food-driven dog!
There are some behavior problems that I’m delighted to have, and this is one of them!

Barnum and I worked our retrieve training. He’s making much faster progress now with the new dumbbells. I combined some aspects of Sue’s method with some of Shirley Chong’s, and that approach has really improved his enthusiasm. More on that another time.

We also practiced door shutting — mostly working on stimulus control (shutting the door when I ask and not shutting it when I don’t ask) — as well as learning to listen for the sound of the latch clicking shut as an indicator that the door is truly shut. He loves this skill so much, that he continues, about once a day, to trot excitedly into  my bathroom and shut the door, necessitating that someone let him back out!

I managed to get a few photo albums up at my FaceBook After Gadget page and have 20 followers now. (I just need five more to officially make it a fan page!)

Plus, the good news on the loose-leash walking just keeps coming. Today was a personal best for Barnum and my helper who walks him. They went all the way to the mailbox and back, which is about one-and-a-half miles, round trip, loose leash all the way!

My helper said he only need a couple of “gentle reminders” on the way there and the way back. He is even learning to control himself when his favorite doggy playmate dive-bombs him in the road (while she is loose, and he is on leash) and not fling himself at her, trying to play with her.

Wahooey!

Tonight, Betsy and I shaved Barnum again to make tick-checking easier. I’m so pleased that he is getting easier and easier to groom. He is more relaxed about it most of the time.

However, I need new clippers. The old Oster clipper and its blades that I have just aren’t cutting it (no pun intended). I send the blades out to be sharpened, and within a cut or two — or sometimes with no use at all — they are too dull again.

However, Barnum looks extra adorable, especially because now you can really see his eyes. I will try to put up photos.

Lastly, though I was wiped out, I joined a teleconference with Shirley Chong, which one of my wonderful readers told me about and invited me to.  (Thank you!)

It was very informative, as well as entertaining (much like Sue, Shirley is very funny and personable and seems kind to humans as well as dogs). It was also neat to “meet” several of the people I’ve gotten to know online via the Training Levels List.

Now if I can just get some sleep.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, freshly shorn and snoring loudly


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