Wednesday, December 30, 2009

50 Feet of PVC Pipe

Once upon a time, I went to Fleet Farm.At Fleet Farm, they sell PVC pipe.They sell a lot of PVC pipe. By the ten foot pole. I needed five of them. My car is a boat, true, but how in the name of god's green earth was I going to get fifty feet of PVC pipe into my definitely not fifty feet long sedan?
With this awesome PVC cutter in the parking lot.
It's hard to juggle a cart, a cutter, and fifty feet of PVC pipe in a parking lot in November.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When Pigs Fly

Despite the fact Gatsby is a miniature schnauzer and they are supposed to be "highly trainable" and "not as terrier as terriers," he cannot read and does not know these things. So, I struggle. I try a thing that works with normal dogs, like border collies. Gatsby does not do whatever the border collie did, and I throw up my hands and go play Mafia Wars on Facebook.

Pigs Fly is for dogs that didn't read the directions.

I know "what" I'm supposed to do. I know "why" it's supposed to work. I do not know "how" to make it work for my dog.

Hands down the biggest struggle I have with Gatsby is keeping his attention. How is a human supposed to stack up against all the STUFF in the world? About a quarter of the book is dedicated to answering that question.

The first fifteen pages are a pep talk. Your dog isn't one of those biddable breeds, just sitting around waiting for input. No! Your's is a problem solver! He has an agenda! This is Good!

The first couple of "real" chapters are an introduction to clicker training. Nothing I haven't read before, but interesting in that it's a little more in depth and science-y than most intro to clicking pieces. It also includes an excellent section on shaping.

The second quarter of the book is the most valuable part, I think. "Teaching Attention as a Behavior" and "Using Your Dog's Natural Behaviors to Train Him" are particularly useful. It's the "How." How to get your dog's attention outside, then let him go sniff as a reward. How to apply the Premack Principle. How to make your dog watching you self-rewarding. And it does this with bull terriers, a decidedly un-Border Collie breed. And acronyms. It really dovetails nicely with Control Unleashed because both are ultimately about changing your dog's emotional reaction to things.

The last half of the book is on teaching basic behaviors and solving problematic ones. I haven't read that far yet. From my skimming of it, it doesn't seem to offer as much new information as the rest of the book.

I would recommend this book to any one having trouble motivating their dog. If your dog loves working for you because you are you, it might be worth checking out of the library for some of the exercises, but a lot of the problem solving isn't going to apply because you don't have the problems that are being solved.

Later this week (probably Friday when I have to work allllllll daaaaaay): Three-Fold Winter Break Training Plan, or, In the name of all that is sacred why the @#$% do I live in Wisconsin

Sunday, December 13, 2009

If I Needed More Convincing

Agility is my sport.

I went to an AKC Obedience trial today. It's never been high on my agenda, but I like going to dog stuff and it was nearby (almost died nine times driving in the mushy snow, but that's besides the point).

I have never been in a room of more negative people. :(

(Note that I'm coming from this fresh off my Positive Dog Training Affirmation)

I'd say something like 97% of the dogs there were on choke chains. The other three percent were on martingales. I don't think it's because their necks are bigger than their heads, either.

No one seemed happy with their dogs or their run. There were lots of angry faces during their turn, even when those people went on to get 199.5/200. These are not untrained dogs, people. I get that it's in the rules that you can give practically no feedback or additional information during the run, but come on! Stop yelling at your dog to sit! Remember that part where they hear better than people?

But what killed me most is that there was no sense of humor. (This is a big deal to me; I don't know if you know this but I'm funny) I was watching the one miniature schnauzer entered and a woman sat down next to me and asked me if they were getting in. I kind of chuckled and said, "Well, kind of," because the schnauzer was being a schnauzer, which is to say he got out there and did whatever the heck he wanted to, and if that happened to coincide with what his handler wanted, so much the better. And she just looked at me with disgust and asked, "Well are they or aren't they?" So I had to confess that I didn't know and she totally dismissed me.

Come on people. This is dogs. Dogs are weird. Yes, even your three-times-a-champion UDX golden retriever. Dogs do funny things. This is part of why we hang out with one another. I understand wanting a title (because I do love to win) and not wanting to waste money (Hi, I'm a college student), but come on. It's. Just. Dogs.

So no AKC Obedience for us. Part of me wants to train the heck out of G and show those 40-year-old women ~*The Power of Positive!*~ (with a miniature schnauzer none the less). But to be honest? I was bored. Watching obedience isn't like watching agility. In agility, even though the course is the same for everyone, everyone runs it differently. And heck, it's exciting. In obedience, everyone does the exact. same. thing. Which, is kinda the point. And is boring. The most exciting part is hearing what words people use as cues. Because even their hand signals are the same.

Tomorrow I'll write up my review of When Pigs Fly: Training Success with Impossible Dogs, the other dog training book I got. In short: It answers my "How?" and I like it very much. Lots of updates while DF is pitching a fit at me.

In the meantime, enjoy these dog ornaments

Friday, December 11, 2009

Training Paradigm of Choice

I started reading Control Unleashed today (stoooooooked). There's the requisite stories of how dogs were harshly treated in traditional classes, then their owners saw the +R light and now they have excellent dogs. In CU a lot of the focus was on owners and trainers that misread calming signals, and that got me thinking about something.

As humans, communicating with dogs, an entirely different species, we really have no idea what they're doing. I mean, we can guess, and we've made some really good guesses, but not always (Remember when people thought dogs were wolves, so they should act exactly like wolves, then we realized we don't even really know how wolves act?). This is why learning theory is THEORY and not learning FACT. We think it works, and it appears to work, except when it doesn't. Gatsby, for one, has clearly not read the book, or he'd be perfect by now.

So I can't really find it in me to be up in arms over traditional trainers. They are just going off of what had worked for them in the past (which is totally explainable with current learning theory, by the way,and is part of why I get so excited over operant conditioning-based training [I really love science]).

So why am I a pure positive trainer?


Frankly, my technique sucks. I soak up all the theory I can get my hands on and love fitting it all together (the critical thinking rant is a separate post), but gorramit, put a clicker in my hands and I might as well have paws. What's the worst that comes out of a poorly timed click?

Gatsby gets a piece of kibble. That's it. Maybe dried liver, or a piece of cheese. One point to the dog. We'll try again until I get it right. Then he gets lots of kibble.

I have no doubt that correction-based training works. No one can really argue that fact. People trained dogs before us and they'll train dogs after us. Obviously, I think positive reward based training is best (otherwise I wouldn't use it, only the best for my Gatz). But in the hands of a poorly trained trainer, the chance and magnitude of dog-shattering fallout is much, much higher.

I think pretty damn highly of myself, but even I don't want to take that chance.