This is a personal weblog based on my life with Bernese Mountain Dogs. The opinions expressed here represent my own and and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any clubs, organizations or committees that I may be associated with. Please feel free to comment on any post, but profane, abusive or rude comments will not be tolerated - please be polite, even if you disagree.
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

And Now For Something Different

What happens when you put a group of dog trainers together with a bunch (flock) of chickens?  Clicker training chickens, of course!  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a mini chicken camp.  Donna, who has done seminars with the world renown animal behaviorist Bob Bailey, invited a few of us out to her farm to practice our clicker skills on her chickens.  What do you teach chickens?  Well, you can teach them to perform very complex series of behaviors, but to begin, we taught them to peck at a target.  

To begin, we each got to choose a crate that held two chickens.  I chose my crate by default - no one else wanted it because inside was a crazy black chicken that tried to peck everyone.  Well, it turned out that the black chicken was somewhat of a chicken genius and caught on to targeting very quickly.  To teach a chicken to peck at a target, you first need to condition them to the secondary reinforcer, which means that when they hear the "click" they know food is coming.  The "click" then becomes something good and reinforcing for the chicken.  You then shape the chicken's behavior, using the clicker and food, so that random movements eventually become more refined until your chicken is consistently pecking at the target no matter where on the table the target is placed. 
 I was able to shape my genius black chicken to peck the target in only a few short session.  My brown chicken, who was smart, but not genius, was finally targeting by the end of the afternoon.  Since my black chicken was learning so well, I started to do some color discrimination with her.  She started out doing well, but nature called and she was suddenly more interested in laying an egg than telling the difference between a red and blue target.  

Clicker training the chickens really makes you aware of your rate of reinforcement and your timing (those chickens are fast).  You also need to be very observant - the chicken's movements are so quick that if you are not watching carefully, you can easily miss an opportunity to reward the behavior you are looking for.  Clicker training chickens is also a good reminder that we as dog trainers, can change and shape behavior without the use of harsh training methods.  Patience, thoughtful observation and the precise timing of reward can go a long way in shaping complex behaviors that we want when we are training our dogs.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Visiting The Vet

Bosley does not like going to visit the vet. In general, Bosley is a dog that does not like people he doesn't know touching him, so that makes going to the vet stressful for him.  In addition to that,  when he was a puppy, he had a couple vet emergencies(involving eating inappropriate objects), where some not-so-good things happened when he went to the clinic.  

For the past few days, there has been something not quite right with Bosley.  He would cry when he opened his mouth wide - to yawn or grab his kong.  I checked his mouth and teeth and nothing seemed out of place.  Then I started to notice that when he made little yawns (he can't open his mouth very wide) he would always tilt his head to the right.  He was also shaking his head lots and scratching at his right ear a lot. I thought maybe he had an ear infection, but his ear wasn't gunky and didn't smell.  So off to the vet we went.  

Bosley was great at the vet today.  He ran right up to the door and ran in when I opened it.  Usually when he realizes where we are, he puts on the brakes and I have to pull him in.  He didn't tremble (like he usually does) when we were in the waiting room, although he was a bit nervous.  He greeted all the staff and let everyone pet him.  He wasn't too happy about getting his temperature taken, but really, who is?  He was even great with the vet and she commented on how well behaved and laid back he was.  He was a very good boy.

The vet said the reason that it hurts to open his mouth is one of three things: a ocular abscess; inflamed/overused muscles in his head/jaw; or an inner-ear infection.  His eyes didn't hurt when she pushed on them, so she didn't think that it was an abscess behind his eye.  The muscles on his head didn't seem inflamed or sore and his ear up to the ear drum looked good.  The only thing she couldn't look at was his inner ear, so she thinks that he has an inner-ear infection, which would explain all his symptoms.  Hopefully that is all it is and the antibiotics will clear it up quickly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Open Obedience? Maybe!

Well, now I have no excuses not to be able to train Bosley for Open Obedience, since I now have a regulation size panel jump and broad jump.  I still need to cut and paint one more board for the panel jump (apparently I am not good at measuring and I cut one 8" board about 4 inches too short).  

There was a time that I thought Bosley would never get in the Open ring - he would not retrieve.  Less than a year ago, Bosley would not even look at the dumbbell, but with a lot of clicker work he is now very excited to get his dumbbell and is getting very consistent in his retrieve.  We still need to work on a lot of the details (eg. straighter fronts), but now I can actually picture us competing in Open.

Bosley had fun today retrieving his dumbbell over the high jump.

Bosley has no idea about the broad jump, but I have some good ideas (at least I think they are good) to teach him to jump across the broad jump and not just walk on it.

I probably won't focus too much on Open Obedience exercises until the fall, since I am trying to get lots of draft work in right now, but if I can work Bosley a couple times a week, I will be happy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hide and Seek

Can you see her?

How about now?


Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Perfect Spot

I found the perfect spot to practice carting with Bosley.  It is very close to my house, has lots of natural obstacles to practice going around and is a dog friendly area.  Funny I never thought of this place earlier - I drive by it every single day.  It is the University campus.

There are some gentle hill to practice going up and down.

There are wide open spaces to practice basic commands and skills.

There are rocks and trees to practice turning around.

There is thicker underbrush areas to practice working in more confined areas.

It's the perfect carting place.

I have been trying to get out carting at least three times a week.  Bosley is getting much better doing tight turns and will be doing 90 degree turns (the cart pivots 90 degrees without any forward or backward motion) in no time.  Making tight turns is sometimes hard for dogs to learn as they cannot turn their body when they are hitched to the cart, rather they need to learn to cross over their feet to make a nice, tight turn.  Bosley has also figured out the whole backing up thing and backs up fairly straight without trying to sit.  He can now back up the cart for more than the required test distance.  Right now Bosley really needs to work on his "slow" and "stop" commands while pulling- it is very important in draft work that your dog will respond quickly to these commands as they can keep your dog from crashing the cart and getting injured.  We have lots of other detail stuff to work on, so hopefully we can get everything together before the draft test.

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's Friday!

Blogging has been slow.
Nothing much going on.  
Maggie thought she would stop in to say she's glad it's finally Friday!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Oh, Canada!

Today is Canada's 142nd birthday.  To celebrate, the dogs and I went for a long hike in the coulees this morning.  We spent about an hour and a half enjoying the morning, then it started to get a bit too warm out, so we headed home.  I didn't take my camera along on our walk, but here is a picture of where we hiked today (just imagine it much greener).  We don't really follow many of the hiking paths, we just explore the coulees and hope we don't run into any skunks or porcupines.

Then later this afternoon, after Bosley had a good nap, I took him out to practice some carting.  There is a nice big field 2 blocks from my house that I thought would be perfect to practice in.  Well, it wasn't as perfect as I thought.  The weeds are very high, some past my waist, so we had to stay on the worn path.  This is not a good field to go tromping through tall grass where you can't see what is on the ground as this is an area where the rattlesnakes like to spend their summer (their winter dens are not far from here).

So we walked along the path and Bosley was so proud to be pulling his cart.  We will need to find somewhere with nice, short grass so that we can practice doing tighter turns - we didn't have enough room to do much of that today.  We also need a place that has some obstacles to practice going around.  This field is very flat and very empty - only prairie grass and snakes.

Bosley worked on backing up his cart today and was doing better than he has in the past.  He needs to be able to back it up 4 feet, so we have some work to do on that.  The hardest thing that I have found to teach him is that he is not allowed to sit or lay down while hitched to the cart.  In a draft test, that is an automatic fail.  When Bosley tries to back up the cart, he sometimes will sit as he is moving back, so I really need to work on teaching him that sitting is bad, but backing up is good.
(The cart is already coming in handy - it carried my camera and Bosley's leash.)

I hope everyone had a relaxing and fun Canada Day. Happy Birthday Canada.  Cheers!