Desert Dog Training Journal #1 - German Shepherd Dog Forums
 
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-09-2015, 01:51 PM Thread Starter
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Desert Dog Training Journal #1

Hello! I'm Alexis and I've started an apprenticeship under a professional dog trainer in hopes of being able to start a career working with dogs myself. I'm interested in training everything from protection sports, service animals and pet dogs. Wyoung2153 kindly requested that I share a journal documenting my experiences. I already keep a dog training journal for myself so it's no big deal for me to share it, and hopefully it can help someone or you can help me! I work with my project dogs (dogs that are boarding and training at our facility) daily around the other trainers and on my own, but have scheduled supervised lessons with my master every Thursday. My intention is to update this journal Fridays to share what we went over and my observations. I will try to be as detailed as possible.

This first post is going to be a little long as it will include background information so please bear with me, or skip to the end if you're only interested in the nitty gritty training stuff.

As a quick and dirty rundown of our training methods, we use marker training; my mentor did his apprenticeship under Ivan Balabanov so his methods are very similar. We use four marker words: break, good, eh-eh, and no. "Break" is our release/reward marker, "good" is our "you're on the right path" marker, "eh-eh" is "you're on the wrong path" marker, and "no" is our "you were wrong" marker.

My first project dog is a beautiful and sweet little girl, Tesla. As for her background, she's a two year old white GSD with medium food drive and unknown prey drive, and no prior training, brought to us for boarding because her old owner cannot keep her. She grew up in the same home on horse property, where she would "herd" the goats which would start confrontations with the horses. Due to medical reasons, her owner is unable to work with her through these problems and sent her to us to get her out of her hair until we can find another home for her to save her from possible euthanasia. I'm already a little in love with her, so if it comes to that (or giving her to a shelter) I likely will assume ownership of her and pay to continue boarding her until we can get her a proper home. She cannot stay with me as I don't have my own home.

Wednesday was my first interaction with her. I just walked her on a leash and did treat stuff, working on a little bit of luring but no commands or real expectations yet. She took treats pretty quickly and within five minutes engaged in face licking and would follow me easily. After fifteen minutes she had enough of a relationship to lean against my legs for security whenever she was feeling unsure of something. She is fearful of people and sensitive to touch but obviously a little bit of work goes a long way with her. One of the other trainers (once I had established a good rapport with the dog that she was comfortable with me touching her) said that firm petting and pats would be beneficial to her to get her adjusted.

The nitty gritty training stuff:

Thursday my mentor had me bring her in the training room for an hour. He coached me on establishing leadership using my voice calmly yet confidently, and walking her around in much the same way. He gave me good insight on a litmus test for whether a dog is really taking to your leadership by having me walk her around the room, and seeing if she would stop and look to me if I stopped walking, as if to ask "what next?"

Next we worked on luring the down. She is spatially sensitive so gets a little sketched out by leaning toward her for the down gesture, so we kept things slow and careful. He instructed me not to use an excited "break" marker because she would kind of lunge forward for the treat (more anxious than excited) if I did, and was much more relaxed about it when I spoke softer. I did very little talking other than using her name and the markers (which she doesn't know yet), but did a lot of work using body language and tone of voice.

We worked on her coping skills next. My mentor would lean toward her from a distance and I would "eh-eh" and use calm and controlled leash pressure to bring her forward, as well as moving a step forward to get her just to follow me, and "good"s when she would look at my mentor and step toward him on her own. He also would stomp his feet lightly, and when she engaged him and did not shy away he would retreat and we would "break" her, move away and have her take a treat or two.

After that we had her walk on a flattened-out wire crate. We covered half of it with a blanket and just walked her over it four times back and forth. She resisted, but I had her on a slip lead with very little slack and good momentum approaching the crate. I did not yield or slow down when she pulled back, just moved steadily forward to make her understand that we're doing this and she's going to have to deal with it, pretty much. The first time she jumped over the wire part because she didn't want to step on it, but we got her to step on it a few times with repetition and me learning how to hold the leash properly and get her approaching at the correct pace. Then we had her stand on it with all four paws on the wire crate, treated her while she was standing on it, "breaked" her off the crate and treated again.

To end the session we worked on sit-stays, using only body language and the verbal markers. I could tell that the work we had done, while mildly stressful, really improved her trust in me. Her ears were completely forward and she was entirely engaged with me, held eye contact and was clearly trying to figure out what I was asking. She was extremely responsive and came to me without coaxing after each "break".

As for my personal observations, she is an VERY intelligent dog (or maybe all GSDs are that way ), I can tell because in a span of fifteen minutes we faded the down lure from me bending over putting my hand to the ground to a simple flick of my wrist. I think that her intelligence has also worked to her detriment until now though. She makes associations very quickly, but I would say she has a pessimistic outlook on life (a good survival mechanism, to avoid things that might be dangerous) so a lot of those associations are negative. My hope is to turn this around with controlled, structured scenarios where we can reteach her that she and her environment is actually safe, even fun.

I really enjoy that this dog is so intellectually sharp and nervy because it forces me to really focus on what I'm doing. Every little thing I do or say matters in a big way to this animal, so any small mistake I make is magnified, and therefore easier for me to catch and correct. On the flip side, little victories make a big difference too.

That's it for this entry! I highly appreciate any commentary and criticism. I'm looking to learn, for both my own sake and Tesla's.
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-09-2015, 03:07 PM
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I'm looking forward to reading your next journal entry.
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-09-2015, 03:10 PM
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Thanks Alexis and Wyoung,great idea!Looking forward to more posts about your's and Telsa's progress

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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 10:55 PM Thread Starter
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I have a bit of a mini-update. I get to sit and watch all the private lessons (regardless of which trainer is running the lesson) I want, and I get my own private lesson with Tesla once a week (Thursdays), as "payment" for the work I do managing the kennels. I got a sneaky cheat lesson when my mentor asked one of the other trainers to do his next lesson so he could work with me and Tesla a little.

I think he did this because I had just sat in and watched two hour-long lessons with dogs that were potential fear-biters, a chow mix and a sharpei. Their situations were similar to Tesla's and I think he wanted to see what I had learned. So we went outside and ran a test for Tesla, to identify what exact fears she has so we know how to address her potential to respond with aggression, which we want to eliminate across the board. That is NEVER allowed. That was what he told his two clients and I think it applies to my girl.

As it turns out, people outside the pack (and she has limited pack drive, so that's very few people to her) are her almost exclusive fear. She's a little bit weirded out by new environments but not much else.

We took her out and exposed her to these weird rattling hoops, to see if she was afraid of strange objects or weird noises and she didn't even flinch when I ended up tossing one on her. We wheeled a dolly at her, and this time our trust-building exercise the other day really paid off, because she walked all over new, unstable surfaces really easily. She didn't have a problem following my lead.

Well there came a point when someone walked around the corner and she barked at him. I had her on a slip line and administered my first correction to her ever. It was a little nerve wracking because this is the first time I have corrected a large, powerful breed where I had only a few hours worth of relationship with really stretched over the course of several days. It's not like a dog I live with and know really, really well. I had to gauge her threshold for handler aggression, and be ready to control her in case she tries to bite me. But she didn't! The first time she looked really confused like "Hey, we've never had this conversation before". A couple minutes later she barked again and I corrected again but she didn't really engage me, just kind of crumbled and acted like I shot her and she died.

My mentor tried to tell me to not pull her away from what was scaring her (because that is in essence rewarding her for barking: she barks, she gets to move away from the threat) so to pull up on her instead, and then give her a little pop. It was difficult for me to coordinate myself to do it exactly like that the third (and final time) she barked at someone.

So I don't know. I guess I just need to practice and set up some situations to make her bark at someone again. Eventually he says we should take her to Lowe's because it's a lot more open space to make her more secure with herself, as opposed to like a crowded pet store.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 01:22 PM
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Haven't read everything yet, just wanted to follow this

v/r,

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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 01:32 PM
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excellent .

I think this will come in very handy as a thread to show people as the help-me, help-my-dog threads come rolling in.

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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 01:52 PM
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Still enjoying your posts

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Misty Husky Mix
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Devo Yorkie Mix at the bridge
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 02:20 PM
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Welcome alexistrex. wyoung2153 had a great idea and I think your progress will be fun to follow. Keep posting!

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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-16-2015, 12:07 AM Thread Starter
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Entry #2

Well turns out I'm a dork, and forgot to actually set up my Thursday lesson as recurring. So instead I sat in and watched some clients doing CGCA prep, which was fun, and got out a few dogs to work with as well. My mentor was nice enough to give me a quick fifteen minute session with me and one of our client's dobermans anyway so it wasn't a total loss.

I had my brother there to film my lesson so we got some video of me working the dogs on my lonesome I thought I'd share. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Take it easy on me! I'm on day 2 of strep throat and day 4 of medication withdrawals, so I've been battling through that after a long day at work.

This is Tesla's first introduction to fuß, and her first introduction to the distraction of treats being dropped on the ground during platz. We're still working on sharpening the "tools" as my mentor would say (our bridge words and release commands) but thankfully she's a smart cookie.

Tesla 10/15/2015 - YouTube

Watching the video, I do notice that she breaks the platz at one point when I drop a treat but she broke it because I stood up straight after being bent down. I started bending to drop the treats because I thought maybe giving the treats a shorter fall so they bounced more gently and wouldn't be as high of a distraction to the dog, but ended up adding distracting with my body motion. Possibly next time I will try tossing them further away to lessen the distraction instead, and move them closer. Any suggestions here would be welcome!

I'm trying to focus on being more aware of myself and being intentional with everything I do, so that every second during a session has purpose to it. That's all my mentor and I really talked about during my mini lesson.

Last edited by alexistrex; 10-16-2015 at 12:09 AM.
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 10-22-2015, 11:30 AM Thread Starter
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Entry #3

Good news is, Tesla got adopted! She went to an ideal home and I couldn't be happier except if they come back to do some training with us later so I can see how she's doing. I'll miss my little sweetie but I'm happy she got some help with us and is in a home that suits her.

I’m going to write out my assessment of Tesla, and extrapolate on any subjects that pop up along the way, and follow up with how I would apply what I have learned and understand into a real world exercise: theory is great, but application of theory is what gets results.

I’ve now worked with Tesla for about two weeks, taking her out and doing some kind of work with her (even just relationship/engagement stuff) most of those days. We’ve recently started some leash correction work on her and this is a weakness of mine. I know that positive punishment can be highly effective if done correctly, meaning that the type of punishment (leash correction, or even just mild social pressure) for that particular dog, in that particular situation, where the dog perfectly associates the correction with what we want them to; the last part being where the dog thinks “If I don’t sit when they say ‘sit’, I get popped on the leash” or “If I bite tires, I feel electricity: tires are electric.” I think it’s much more delicate work but also very potent, so I want to be better at that, which means I need to practice.

I got to have a quick lesson on this with her with a client cancelled her session so there was a slot open. I started out with a little too much gusto, applying too much force for failing warm-up obedience commands in my attempt to build myself up for the correction she would need for displaying aggression later on. I got gun shy after this got pointed out so then later when we did put pressure on her to make her feel defensive and bark, my corrections were too limp to have significant effect. I need to work on keeping calm and not getting anxious when I make corrections, because I think that’s where most of my mistakes with it are being made. The dog is responding a lot to my uncertainty and lack of calm, which is confusing the message I'm trying to deliver through the leash.

Monday I had my private lesson. I first got to do some work with Tesla, where we put a lot of pressure on her to get her to go into defensive mode, and she successfully went into avoidance as opposed to aggression (Progress!) after a few eh-eh warnings followed with corrections (even if they still weren’t that effectual), then we discussed and went to put the dog up. At the door, where ideally she is supposed to automatically sit, I used both social and leash pressure to get her to sit. My mentor was standing very close and she was more wary about him than she was paying attention to what I wanted from her (she normally nails the door exercise), so even though I gave her a warning and a stare she didn’t respond. I resorted to leash pressure, not popping her sharply but instead lifting up slowly on the cloth slip line she was on, pulling it just a little bit tighter incrementally until I found the effective level she responded to, sat, and then immediately gave her a “break” and relieved the pressure. It was ironically by far the best leash correction I had given her and it was after her official session, go figure.

It was not significant so much that it made the dog obedient to sitting at the doorway, but instead because it forced the dog to redirect her attention off something that was frightening her, and focus on what it was I wanted from her. She is able to relax to perform for me even though the same amount of frightening stimulus is being applied: she is learning to focus under pressure.

This is a similar exercise I've seen in positive reinforcement exclusive schools of dog training, but it's a much more lengthy process unless the dog has really good food drive. The handler will approach a distraction the dog is reactive to and get them just on the verge of their threshold level, where they are about to become reactive, and feed. Over time the line of their threshold moves closer and the dog can relax. It's a similar principle except in this case we are taking the dog just over that threshold line, and use a correction to pull them back from it without removing the stimulation, and then only taking away the negative stimulation after the dog copes with methods besides aggression. If done correctly and in conjunction with positive reinforcement, results can be made much more quickly. I personally don't see a reason NOT to use all four quadrants of operant conditioning if they're available to us an effective in that situation.

As for my humble assessment, I think she has just enough drive (food, pack, flight/defense) that she can be guided through her problem behaviors without having so much that we must go to extremes in our training, where sometimes the message can be lost in the intensity of the experience, whether that be a positive or negative experience. A dog that is overstimulated by a tug is going to have as hard of a time learning as a dog that is overstimulated by fear. You have to get them in a “sweet spot” between excitement and temperance so they learn better, especially during behavioral modification, and especially with this dog who exists on the line between anxiety and excitement.

I think then that her "glass ceiling" is quite high, she can have a very good quality of life and be a safe animal with only a moderate amount of effort and skill required of her future owner/handlers. She’s never going to be a good schutzhund dog, but she’s nice to look at, very sweet, and would make a lovely pet for someone looking for a little project dog to work with. They do have to commit, but not a whole lot to have success. I think she would excel in obedience and that it will greatly improve communication with the handler, which then can be applied to helping her with her behavioral issues. I've already begun to see how working on sit and down bleeds over to behavioral modification, as it allows us to have a conversation with the dog that they understand, and when they understand that their actions can have a direct effect on the outcome of the event, which gives them more confidence in themselves and the handler. If they do follow up training with us I would love to have the opportunity to sit in on one of those if my schedule will allow it.

Finally, this is the exercise I would design for Tesla, or a dog with similar issues at a similar stage of progress. I would get a solid "place" command where the dog understands the expectations through distractions, such as baby talking the dog and throwing treats on the ground where they have to remain in place. Ideally all distractions in the learning phase are pleasurable to the dog rather than something the dog is afraid of, so we can introduce corrections when they get up to go get a treat, not when the dog is afraid and trying to flee, where we would just add more pressure and potentially lose the dog, or have them make a superstitious association to the correction. I would want the dog to understand that if they receive a correction, whether from the leash or not, it's because they broke the place command and no other reason.

I would put the dog in place, and then as the handler, step away from the dog, which is important. The distraction, in the form of someone the dog is afraid of, who is putting pressure on the dog through threatening body language, approaches and makes the dog want to flee or bark. The handler distancing themselves from the dog is important because it leaves the dog feeling much more isolated and vulnerable, and we have to teach the dog how to navigate through this pressure on their own. It's a lot like people who wind the leash up really short when they don't want their dog to get at something in the environment, instead of giving them the full leash and correcting them when they go for the distraction, and telling them when they respond appropriately to it. The dog has to be given the opportunity to make the decision for herself and not because the handler is standing right over her making it happen with the pressure from their presence. Eh-ehs (and potentially nos) should be used to help remind the dog that they are supposed to stay on the bed command, as well as goods when they make effort to stay put and ignore/avoid the stimulus. Once the dog makes an obvious choice to stay, they get the "break". The distraction should shut off immediately and move away, and the dog should receive a treat and praise.

The food and affection is not really a reward to the dog in this situation. The negative reinforcement from removing the scary stimulus is far more rewarding to the dog than a treat, but the food and affection is important because it helps to balance out what is an inherently stressful experience with something pleasurable. I think it's important to not do too many repetitions of this exercise too quickly, and not without sufficient breaks between where the handler can work on obedience and just walking around, keeping the dog moving but calmly and providing them positive rewards in between exercises to manage their stress levels.

What this teaches the dog specifically is that their handler can shut off this experience with "break", and the dog knows and is guided in what it has to do in order to receive the break. The dog is able to build confidence that their actions can direct the outcome of the situation, which removes the fear. They know that if they go through us that they will be all right, because we teach them through rehearsal that this is the case. Eventually they realize more and more that this frightening experience isn't all that bad, and they can relax in general without handler help in the future.
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