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Tag: Zen

Dogs Leave it at a Higher Level: Zen on the Move

Dogs Leave it at a Higher Level: Zen on the Move

Pictures of dogs exhibiting self-control while covered with or surrounded by cookies, dog biscuits, or hot dogs are popular ways people Fame their dogs. You can see plenty of them on the Dog Faming FaceBook page. And here is Paisley doing a beautiful job in her entry for the Your Pit Bull and You Calendar Contest. (Go vote for some of those charmers!) Paisley is one of my current favorites, particularly since she doesn’t look stressed with the exercise. Don’t I see a tail in mid-wag? She knows exactly what to do, and also knows that she will be nicely compensated for her efforts!

Paisley the Pit Bull Leaves It!

At my house we’ve been working on a different kind of Zen lately, and although maybe it isn’t as photogenic, it’s a real challenge too.

I’ve mentioned before that I train using Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels. There is a step in Lazy Leash that incorporates Zen that I have been practicing with all of my dogs for several months. For my dogs, moving around while performing Zen is a real challenge.

Many training protocols use a treat on the ground as a distraction while teaching leash manners. It certainly has to be worked up to, since just keeping the leash loose at all takes all of the dog’s concentration at first.

Sue is so good at splitting out steps, and I love how she does the Zen/Lazy Leash combination.  Her steps involving the treat include:

  • Handler and dog stand with a treat directly in front of the dog, with the dog on leash. Handler takes one step away in any direction and returns. Practice duration and the person moving in different directions.
  • Handler and dog walk toward the treat on the floor and turn away before they get there.
  • Handler and dog walk past the treat on the floor.

The first step was no problem for any of my pups. Putting the leash on didn’t change the picture much from regular old “food on the floor” Zen. They were all OK with the second step, too. But oh man, the third. Clara and Zani are convinced the treat is going to jump out and grab them! I don’t have any trouble with them pulling towards the treat. However, both of them will sometimes tighten the leash when trying to get away from it!

I have mentioned before that many of us teach Zen at the beginning by reinforcing the dog for backing away from the “Zenned” item. So it can be a new concept for the dog that they it’s OK to be close to the treat–they just can’t eat it. I have some pretty cute footage of Clara trying desperately to keep her distance from a treat in my post Attack of the Zen Field. We have worked on it quite a bit since then and she has improved, but is still distrustful of that scary old treat.

I’ve been using this Step in the Levels as an opportunity to teach my dogs that they can actually go near the treat–as long as they don’t eat it (and in this case also maintain a loose leash).

Here is a short video of the results of that training. Summer is the pro from all the Rally practice we’ve done with treats and toys on the floor. Zani and Clara still have to work through some “cognitive dissonance,” as I teach them that it’s OK to go close to the treat. In short, the Zen is great, but if the dog runs behind me to get away from the treat, the loose leash doesn’t stay that way. But I’m super pleased with everybody’s progress.

Dog Faming: Zen on the Move

Link to the Zen on the Move video for email subscribers.

Other Zen Vids with Bragging Rights

Sniff Zen

Wheee–rabbit pee!

Zen Trap

Great treats popping up in unexpected places!

Zen Generalization: Hole in the Fence

Who says that training with positive reinforcement doesn’t hold up in real life? Get a load of this post!

Hole in the Fence Zen

Copyright 2013 Eileen Anderson

Summer, Clara and Zani, leave thrown kibble alone
Summer, Clara and Zani, leave thrown kibble alone
Level 1 Breakfast

Level 1 Breakfast

Those who have read for a while know that I use Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels to structure my training. For you new folks: go check them out! They are a great resource if you are training your dog on your own and could use great training tips and structure to what you are doing. Also for you new folks, since I’m showing a training video on this page, please read the Welcome post if you haven’t already, to know a little more about the focus of my blog and why I post videos that sometimes, ahem, show errors.

Following the Training Levels helps me keep going, be consistent, and remember to generalize, generalize, generalize. It helps me keep track of three dogs. It helps me figure out what to train when my mind is tired and blank. Plus I get the benefit of help from all the great trainers on the Training Levels Yahoo group.

A year or so ago on the Yahoo group, Sue mentioned using her puppy Syn’s breakfast a few days in a row to get a jump start on a certain behavior. Now, using a dog’s meals for training sessions is not at all a new idea for me. But frankly, I had rarely done it up to then, except with Clara. The reason was that I had gotten into a habit of using higher value treats for training first Summer, then Zani, in agility and other performance work.  That habit had carried over even into training at home in a non-distracting environment. Every task felt so very important; I didn’t want to devalue anything by using dry food.

But when I read Sue’s post that day, I thought wistfully that it would be so NICE if I could just use their breakfast or supper sometimes like other folks and not always have to dream up new good things for them to eat (and for me to cut up).

I thought maybe, just maybe, I could use the kibble for known behaviors and low key stuff. Since I was starting a project of rehabilitating Summer’s poisoned stay cue, I thought that might be a good candidate. I was going to need to do hundreds or thousands of reps, and they didn’t all have to be steak.

A blue box clicker and pile of dry kibbleSo I started thinking up some things each dog could do for some of their morning kibble each day. That’s when I found out that my dogs were now thrilled to work for kibble.

It turns out that those couple of years using high value treats got Zani and Summer addicted to the training game permanently. And Clara, well, she might work for cardboard. (Actually she would.)

Great! The kibble thing meant that finding the time and energy for training just got quite a bit easier for me. Set out part of a meal and do something with it.

I generally give them the meal part first. I rarely use my dogs’ entire meal for training, although they wouldn’t mind.  I have always wanted to stay mindful myself that many things in their lives are free, and that’s how I want it to be. (My practice about that predates Kathy Sdao’s great book, but she said it very well.) Also recently I have learned that dogs, just like people, probably learn better when their stomachs are not empty. Why after all these years did this only now occur to us? Anyway, I give them some of their meal ahead of time and take the edge off, before training.

So here I was, finally having what a lot of people have had from the beginning: dogs who work very happily for kibble. What was I going to do with it? I work outside my home, so doing a training session in the morning (for THREE dogs)  is still wedging something into a busy time. How could I make it easier on myself?

I took a page out of Lynn Shrove’s book. Lynn is the Empress of Level 1. Her dog Lily has an incredibly firm foundation, and I know it’s in part because Lynn does Level 1 behaviors over and over, everywhere, everywhen, with everybody. Check out budding trainer Bethany, age 7, working with Lily on sits and downs if you want to see adorable. Not to mention very practical on Lynn’s part.

So my version is the Level 1 Breakfast. Take a portion of everybody’s breakfast, and have a rapid-fire practice session of sit, down, target, come, and Zen. (Those are the behaviors from Level 1 in Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels.) We started off just doing it in normal places, in normal positions. All my dogs can use practice on verbal cues. None of them, for instance, is at 100% correct response of sit and down. Summer comes the closest, but you can see an outtake at the end of the movie where she has an incredibly creative response to the cue, “sit.”

I said rapid-fire above, because we are moving quickly, and because Level 1 behaviors don’t require duration, except up to 5 seconds for Zen. However, you will see me adding a second or two of duration now and then in the movie just to keep things mixed up.

We went on to more challenging situations, for instance, with me sitting or lying on the floor. And we found out quickly what needed some work!

Link to video for email subscribers.

So just from these couple of sessions I learned that the following things needed work:

  • Zani has a big space bubble around her and tends to do her behaviors a fair distance away. I need to practice more recalls right to my feet and hands and generally shape her into working more closely to me. The directions for this are right in Level 1.
  • I need to practice yet more collar grabs with Summer. She’s doing OK (better than Zani!), but her tail wag slows down a bit when I take her collar. I would love to get “delight” as a response.
  • Clara got a bit stressed when I switched abruptly from having her run to me for a hand target to cuing Zen. She responded properly but looked progressively more worried (paw lift, shrinking away). She was fine with Zen in other contexts, so I think the sharp transition was difficult.  I’ll practice more transitions and reinforce the Zen mightily.
  • When I was lying down, Summer, who actually knows her cues the best in that situation, fixated on my nigh pocket and hand with the treats and was actually bumping my hand with her nose. Major distraction. What a time for me to cue Zen! I put the treat on the floor right in front of her it was an immediate fail. Several things to practice about that!
  • Zani and Clara both had trouble sitting when I was lying on the floor, as is very common. I want to mention that for both of them I “helped” them by repeating the cue and adding another signal (verbal or hand, depending on what I had originally given). It would have been a  bad idea to continue to do this, because it would end up reinforcing their incorrect response. The proper thing to do, and what I did do subsequently, is work gradually down to that position and give them a history of success.
A sable dog is in motion, moving sideways and twisting her body. You can see just the legs of her trainer in the background.
Summer with a very creative response to “sit”

So that’s what we learned over the course of a couple of breakfasts. Now we are filling in the gaps.

Thanks for reading and viewing!

Coming up:

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Zen Generalization: Hole in the Fence

Zen Generalization: Hole in the Fence

Snowy face Zani
Zani after playing in the snow

Sue Ailsby points out the Zen is one behavior that dogs tend to generalize well:

Leave It for all manner of toddler Zen situations…; Leave It nicely gets my dogs out of the front hall when we have visitors; Leave It helps us avoid a fight at the dog park as my dog heads for another dog’s ball; Leave It says “Stop paying attention to that cue hunky Doberman and pay attention to me!” –Training Levels, p. 441-442

It turns out that Leave It (my verbal signal is “Pas”) also means, “Don’t even think of continuing down that fallen tree trunk and jumping down on the wrong side of the ex pen so you can go through the hole that the root ball left under the fence and visit the neighbor’s yard!”

It even means it when I am 20 feet away and up a flight of steps! Good girl, Zani!

And if you’re wondering why I didn’t just call her, it’s because the ex pen fence was between us. I didn’t know what kind of confusion that could engender. So I cued Zen, talked her back the way she came, and gave her a hand signal to go around the ex pen. Life is good!

Thanks for reading and watching!

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Letting the Treat Fit the Feat: Real World Application

Letting the Treat Fit the Feat: Real World Application

One upon a time there was an adolescent dog in an open admission shelter who had one day left.

And a woman who knew nothing about dog training, already had a smaller dog, and made an impulsive decision to go get the shelter dog. Some problems ensued.

That’s how a lot of people discover dog training, I think. And I suspect that I’m not the only one for whom that dog who started it all has a special place in the heart.

As a positive reinforcement trainer, I know that just about whatever a dog is physically capable of, you can train and put on cue. If you can figure out what is reinforcing to the dog, you can get reliable behavior. And you can even create new reinforcers by pairing them with ones the dog already has.

On the other hand.

In 1961 Keller and Marian Breland published a paper called The Misbehavior of Organisms. It was in part a response  to B. F. Skinner’s work The Behavior of Organisms. The Brelands outlined examples of training difficulties having to do with countering the natural, instinctive tendencies of animals.

I think of this when I look over my motley crew of dogs, noticing not only their individual quirks but how their personalities and interests might be related to their breeds (mixed in most cases). There are certain breeds of dogs that have been selectively bred for generations to thrive on work with humans. Herding dogs and retrievers come to mind. My dog Clara exhibits the tendencies I’m talking about. A strong valuing of almost any kind of activity with a human and a strong focus and attention span to work.

My dog Summer is different. She has an abundance of independent varmint dog genes. Her are some shots of her in her element.

I hadn’t put any of this together when I decided to go into competitive dog sports with her. Summer is a non-traditional obedience breed mix, putting it lightly. I’ve related part of my painful learning curve in the post, “Ant Sized Treats.” I talk about how I finally learned how to really motivate her with food. But I didn’t mention in that post the work I have put in on trying to use tug as a reinforcer.

Summer does like to tug. She will tug very heartily with me for a little while. And I have had a tiny bit of success using tug as a reinforcer. But only when there is no food in the picture. If we are already playing tug, I can ask for behaviors and reward them with tug. But if it is a “training session,” food trumps tug. (And playing in the hose trumps some food, even.) Problems like this with food and tug are perfectly solvable. Here is a nice video my friend Marge made teaching  Maple, a boxer puppy, how to enjoy multiple reinforcers in a session. So please let me be clear that this is my choice as a trainer not to pursue food and tug issues with Summer until they are solved. I’m sure it could be done. But I have four dogs and plenty of essentials to train. With Summer it would be uphill. Zani and Clara will both tug in the presence of food and vice versa, and I’ve done much less work with them on it.

What Summer loves to do is to carry off and dismember toys. Perform squeakerectomies, fuzz-ectomies and anything-that-sticks-out-ectomies. That is by far her favored part of the predatory sequence. Allowing this type of self-reinforcement (with the human out of the picture) is somewhat Frowned Upon by many of the sports dogs trainers. We are supposed to make sure that the dog plays with toys with us, not on her own, or certainly not extensively by herself.

But Summer is a beloved pet and I am fine with her tearing up toys on her own. So: how then should I handle the challenge in our upcoming AKC Rally Advanced trial where a dog must heel past distractions on the floor including food and toys? We have practiced a lot with food and have a protocol for that. So I wanted also to figure out a way to reward Summer with a toy in such a way that would 1) maintain the Zen behavior she has and build on it, 2) be fair to her, and 3) be truly reinforcing. Letting the Treat Fit the Feat, as I’ve written about previously.

For this dog, grabbing up a toy and whooping it up expecting her to tug with me would not be reinforcing, especially if I took the toy away before she could rip it up.

With help from the Training Levels list and my teacher I came up with the following plan:  In Rally context (recognizable to her), Summer never gets the treat off the floor or the toy off the floor, even after the run is over. She has to exercise Zen self control and for her, I can better accomplish it with giving her a treat that is separate from the one on the floor. She gets a great reward at the end of the run and it fits the challenge: big bite of some great food, or yes, a toy to shred, or both. Both come out of my pocket or outside of the Rally setup premises (mimicking what we will do in a trial). Summer already knows that routine: long behavior chain, then run to the crating area for something great.

I bought a bunch of very cheap stuffed toys so shredding could be part of the routine each time we practiced.

My plan was to finish the run, make a big deal about the food and toy, then leave her to her shredding. But the first day I implemented my new plan I found out something amazing. It turns out I AM part of Summer’s play with the toy. I gave her the toy, she was surprised, but immediately made it clear that she wanted me to sit with her while she pulled it apart. She simply didn’t want it unless I was there, too. I was touched almost to tears. This is my independent dog. This is after years of on and off work on my part to make playing with me fun, but then watching her continue to prefer to take the toy into a corner and shred it herself.  So she had her toy, I hung out with her and bragged on her for 5 or 10 minutes, and she was SO happy. The second day we had our routine down better and She. Started. Bringing. Me. The. Toy. Again, you’d have to know the history. But it turns out that all the other stuff I had done to get a toy fetch, rewarded with tugging, was too much pressure. When I gave her some time, she went back and forth between shredding it herself and bringing it to me to tug and handle together. I left my jaw on the floor somewhere that day. The whole experience also brought home to me that for her (in a household of four dogs), time alone with me is very special.

So we ended up having, rather than an instantaneous reinforcer (even a whole jar of baby food takes less than a minute for her to eat), but a reinforcement period. There are some tricks to that–some things the trainer chooses to offer are bound to be of lower value than others so there may be moments of disappointment–and perhaps I’ll write about that in another post. But I feel like spending several minutes with my attention entirely on my dog and what she would like to do was a Treat that Fit the Feat.

On the third day, I brought out the video recorder. What you will see in the video are excerpts from an 8 minute session that Summer and I had in the back yard. I set out the plates of distractions, we did rally practice for about four minutes, then we finished, I released her, and we ran to another part of the yard. I gave her two huge bites of pumpkin cake, then gave her a disposable toy. I hung out with her. She gutted the toy. We tugged a little. She never once turned around to check out the former distractions, but just hung out with me in a relaxed way. She was free to leave and choose a different reinforcing activity at any time. After a time we went together (not cued by me) and I picked up the plates (during this part you can see that she is still very interested in them), then went back and hung out some more and she solicited some petting.

This will probably look pretty low key to a lot of you.  Unless she is aroused about something, Summer is a pretty low energy dog. But check out the photos at the top again and compare them to her demeanor in the video. In the video Summer pays lovely attention to our work. After she is released, she doesn’t leave. We don’t see her patrolling the perimeter, digging, hunting turtles, or going up to the top of the porch to check out the neighbors, or any other favorite activity. She reacts not at all when a dog barks or the neighbors use their chain saw. She doesn’t take the toy off to a corner. She doesn’t prowl back to the plates. This is the most amazing thing. I mean, our Zen cue does not have anything like that duration. She is choosing to hang out with me over the chance to sniff and pilfer some stuff off the ground, which is always hugely enticing to her. (I would have picked up the plates if she had tried, as part of our rule structure. But the point is she didn’t even seem to think about them.)

So my hypervigilant dog chose, out of all the available reinforcers, to hang out with me in a relaxed way in a distraction filled area.

My miracle dog.

Addendum, 9/27/12

I realized after some discussion in the comments that I had not talked at all about the fact that in my video and in my practice lately, there is a delay between the behavior and the reinforcement period. As most of you probably know, in most cases a delay between behavior and reinforcement makes for ineffective training. The relationship between the two can break down, or never form in the first place. On the other hand, there is ample research about delayed reinforcement that shows that animals can learn to connect delayed reinforcers with the behavior. Sue Ailsby in the Training Levels and some other trainers have techniques to teach the dog about this connection.

With Summer I have followed Sue’s technique and am pretty sure that she does make the connection. I spent several weeks a year or two back going to Rally practice wherein I didn’t give any treats during the run, but afterwards we ran back to our crate area and she got a whole jar of baby food. Her performance and enthusiasm improved markedly during that period, evidence that she connected the great food treat with the rally sequence. We do the same thing for agility runs, and have a routine that even includes putting her leash back on before running for her goodies.

I don’t give training advice on this blog but I want to give a simple caution that if you have not taught your dog about delayed reinforcement, a period of food treats, play, and attention such as I show in the video would likely not be connected to a previous behavior chain. And frankly, I don’t think that by the end of my hanging out with Summer she was thinking, “This is all because I did my Rally moves so nicely!” But I think at the beginning she probably did experience the doggie equivalent of that. And if we are going to have fun and hang out together, it certainly doesn’t hurt to pair it with an activity that I want to have good associations for her.

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Eileen is seated on a short stool and Clara is lying on the floor. They are looking into each other's eyes. There are some training props on the floor.Up to this point, all of my Missed Cue videos have been set up. After I discover or suspect a hole in my dogs’ training I set them up in a situation in which I’m guessing they will fail, and record it as a teaching exercise. (I discuss why I don’t think this is a mean thing to do in the original post about missed cues: Dogs Notice Everything.)

But this one was not set up. It was during a normal training session. I thought I had the bases covered. And I had the camera running.

The behavior we were working on was Level 2 Go to Mat, Step 3 from the Training Levels books: Dog goes 5 feet to the mat and lies down. Clara has been getting on mats and being reinforced for that since the day she arrived. She can go to a mat on a verbal or hand signal from at least 20 feet away. She can stay on it for extended periods (20-30 minutes). She has a verbal cue, a hand signal, and two environmental cues to go to mat. She can do it when I run in circles around her, when the other dogs are excited, and in many other challenging situations.  So I really thought we had this covered. But when we are working on the Levels, we never skip steps. We train every step as if we’ve never done it before. You’d be amazed what we find out by doing that.

I was amazed today. We got to the Comeafter.  The Comeafter in this Step is to add a distraction. In the book, Sue talks about taking care in picking our distraction. And I thought I was being careful. I picked putting some food on the floor as our distraction. This is old hat for Clara. She has training sessions with plates of food on the floor, can do recalls past food, etc. She has very close to a default Zen during training. And this was only a 5 foot trip to the mat.

What could possibly go wrong?

(There is a synopsis of the following video at the bottom of this post.)

I managed to do exactly what Sue warns about in the book if you make a poor choice of distraction. I made Clara so crazy she wouldn’t go to the mat.

This problem is different from those shown in all the other Missed Cue videos. They involve generalization issues with behaviors for which the dog knows the cue in some environments/situations but not in others. This one is more like the conflict of two cues, one verbal, the other environmental. Clara certainly appears to understand what I am asking her to do and just can’t figure out how to reconcile it with other strong default instructions.

The more I think about it, the more understandable Clara’s behavior is as she shies away from the food and won’t/can’t go to the mat. We teach Zen by reinforcing the dog for moving away from the treat. That is a definable behavior, as opposed to “not eating the treat.”  And when we train it, most of us like to see the dog getting very distant from the treats, and we reinforce accordingly.

So how can I re-train this? Clara needs to know that she can pass close by the treats as long as she doesn’t eat them.

Also, why, in the second go round, does she not take the straight path I have made for her to go to the mat? She wouldn’t have to come within 2 feet of the treats. Anyone care to speculate about that? That part I don’t understand. I do note that in both cases she seemed to feel “safer” from the treats when I was standing near her.

I know we are not the only ones this has happened to. Sue has at least one photograph in the Levels book showing one a dog shrinking away from a treat on the floor. And Sharon Wachsler, a great service dog trainer, came up with a name for the thing that she modestly mentions lots of us have noticed: the Zen field. The Zen field is the invisible area around the treat that only the dog knows the boundaries of. Sharon is the only trainer I know though who deliberately manipulates the field during training: taking treats in and out of the field and extending the field by adding treats within it and changing its shape.

I am hereby asking for suggestions on how to retrain Clara to get closer to the treats, and not freak when she is asked to walk close by them.  In other words, we need to shrink the Zen field but retain its potency. Seriously, we need some suggestions. I have only one idea and it is very mundane. I bet some of you can come up with some clever ideas. I’ll choose whichever suggested method seems to fit Clara’s and my skill level the best and video the progress and results.

Discussions coming soon:

Synopsis of the embedded video 

The Missed Cue: Attack of the Zen Field

Scene 1: We see Clara having a training session with Eileen. Clara is practicing dropping a piece of knotted rope into a bowl, and there is a plate of treats close by on the floor.

Scent 2: We see Eileen calling Clara, who runs full speed past a plate of treats to Eileen.

Scene 3: We see Clara running to her mat with Eileen, but plopping down and staying without a verbal cue as Eileen continues running by and going out the back door.

Scene 4: We see Clara going to her mat and lying down on verbal cue from two different directions.

Scene 5: We see Eileen put some treats on the floor next to a mat, then verbally cue Clara to go to the mat. Clara looks at the treats and scoots a bit sideways away from the mat. She looks away, then looks back at the treats several times. Eileen changes her own position closer to the treats and cues mat again, and Clara slowly goes around and get on the mat, sniffing it as she does so.

Scene 6: A silly repeat of Clara shying away from the treats with animated flames coming from the treats and the music from the shower scene in Psycho.

Scene 7: Eileen again places treats on the floor near the mat, but this time on the other side, leaving Clara a clear path to the mat. When Eileen cues mat, Clara again slips off to the side and puffs with her mouth and circles around. Eileen encourages her to come to the other side (actually closer to the treats). Clara eagerly comes that way, then stops very short when she gets close to the treats. Finally Eileen puts her foot over the treats and Clara goes by and gets on the mat. Eileen is chatting reassuringly to Clara throughout this.

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