Wednesday, 16 April 2014

ISS - it is rocket science

Wow just seen the ISS.

No not internet show services - although that does feature a lot in our lives at the minute.

The International Space Station.

It passed over our house at the predicted time of 9:50 and we saw it for the predicted time of 4 minutes.

It is incredible that science has enabled us to build something like that and launch it into space and for us to know where it will be - again because of science.

I do wonder though why some of this capability of gaining knowledge is not used on more day to day things.

Dog training for example, yes I know its not rocket science but that saying implies anything that isn't rocket science is easy.

Conversely it may mean it has not had as much research put into it.

With dogs being a bigger part of our lives and us living in a capitalistic society that equals more money, science is now looking at our relationship with our dogs more deeply and scientifically.

I am all in favour of this too and would pose science many a question about Rhyme.

For example on Sunday we were all happy around The Old Potting Shed. I was learning to dig my vegetable plot and Mark was enjoying clearing dead wood with his chosen tool of a chainsaw.

The dogs were mooching around between the two of us.

I hadn't seen Rhyme for a couple of minutes and initially thought he was with Mark when I caught sight of him outside the paddock gate.

Wondering how he got there I called him to see his route but he just stood by the gate so I walked over to let him in.

A lady was walking up the lane and asked if he was one of mine.
"Yes I am not sure how he got out though."
"I live in that house opposite and I was just checking he got back ok" she replied.
"Sorry was he in your garden"
"Oh no he was in the house and finished up the cats food"

Well it was great to meet another neighbour who likes dogs and was pleased of the opportunity to meet us. Embarrassed was not quite the word though.

FB confirmed other tales of peoples dogs being the instrument of introduction to their neighbours so science I hope you're up to the challenge. Tracking a personality free piece of hardware in space is not rocket science compared to the workings of the wonders of dogs.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

For the love of dogs

Agility is my main hobby - dogs are my main love.

Through agility my dogs and I get both mental and physical stimulation.

When we created Wag and Tone we partly wanted something equally stimulating and rewarding that would be fun for people and dogs that were less competitive in nature and didn't have whole weekends to dedicate to agility.

For my agility dogs it is a class where we can slow down and focus on key muscle groups to improve performance.

Rhyme GymBall Tap

I am so excited about starting a new class near to were we moved to but also a bit nervous. Most of my initial class came from people who knew me through agility and were either agility dogs or older retired dogs so I was in a comfortable place. Once started we had a few pet dogs join us and it was great to spread the word about movement helping build a relationship with your dog.

It is a beautiful thing watching person and dog wrapped up in their own little world stepping in time with the music (or not depending on their want) enjoying the moment.

Watching other dog sports which revolve around a performance it is easy to get locked into that performance and appreciate the bond and work that helped create the performance. I don't think we fully appreciate the dogs enjoyment of that moving together.

In the Wag and Tone class the focus is on fun, on getting a bit fitter, on teaching the dog to do movements on command. It doesn't take long to discover the dogs don't really need the commands - they understand what you are trying to do and how to do it.

Some dogs even put their own slant on it - Herbie would lift his legs higher in time with Jenn when we were doing high steps in the warm up.

Sue's Dexi would go to the ladder when he heard the track we initially used on that exercise.

Sue and Dexi Ladder

As I have been writing I notice my nerves have gone:) I am so looking forward to sharing the Wag and Tone experience with a whole bunch of new dogs and people.

The only thing I have to worry about is if the hall is big enough :)

If you're interested in running your own Wag and Tone class the eBook Wag and Tone available through
will tell you all you need to know and we're happy to hear from you and help when we can :)

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Contacts Re-visited - training in the ring?

Something that I have been thinking about is when dogs are put back on contacts in the ring it is deemed "training in the ring". Some judges will send you out after, others will let you continue.

But IS it actually training in the ring, which quadrant of operant conditioning are you using and what is the dog being trained by this behaviour?

With modern positive dog training techniques being used widely in most training schools these days we use positive reinforcement to get our dogs to perform the desired behaviour within agility.

Take a stopped contact. The dog stops on the contact and we give it some kind of reward - a treat, a play with their tuggy etc. We focus on making the contacts a great place to be and then check our dogs understanding with various proofing methods which usually result in the dog getting a reward for the correct action.

I understand training to be setting a situation up for my dog to do the correct response to which I give him a positive reward.

What happens when we go to a show and the dog does something different to what you wanted it to?

I frequently see people stopping their dog from going further, placing them back on the end of a contact and then either leaving the ring or carrying on.

If it is training lets explore which part of Skinners operant conditioning this may fall under.

Positive re-inforcement - adding something the dog enjoys to encourage that behaviour again. Putting the dog back on the contact and praising (unable to give other type of reward in a competition).

Negative reinforcement - taking away something that was undesirable to the dog. Shouting at the dog and not stopping until it is back on the contact.

Positive punishment - adding something unpleasant to stop a behaviour.  To some dogs this can be something as small as a rebuke. In extreme cases it is a physical reprimand. So if you tell your dog off for jumping off the contact you are using positive punishment for that action.

Negative punishment - taking away something that the dog is finding rewarding. Stopping the dog from continuing on the course which it is finding rewarding to place it back on the contact.

So now you have considered which quadrant of operant conditioning you may be using on your dog when putting them back on contacts in the ring, lets look at what we have possibly trained the dog. I say possibly as I suggest the dog is not actually learning what is trying to be taught.

Picture the perfect stopped dog walk contact - drive up, along and down the 3 planks until the dog reaches the bottom where it stops confidently waiting for the release command.

Consider the approach, your position, the next obstacle and your position in relation to the next obstacle. The dogs strength both physically and mentally in its understanding. What is going on in the next ring, where the judge is and any other external circumstances. Is the perfect stopped dog walk contact really an easy decision for a dog to understand and make?

When your dog missed the stop did you realise you were flailing your arms and out of position? Did you see the dog race through the tunnel in the next ring? Did you notice your dog loose it's footing slightly along the down plank? Just a few observations and any one of these plus a hundred more could make your dog fail in its performance.

Once the contact is missed and the dog brought back everything has changed. The dog will not be moving at the same speed, you will be in a different position etc etc.

Nothing will be the same.

Are you teaching the dog to cope with the things it failed on or have you just given your dog a whole different picture to deal with? Will your dog understand it failed or maybe it will think the process is to leap off and then rush back to be put back on?

I have no answers to these questions, no golden pill for getting contacts once a dog gets confused with them in the ring. I too have stopped a dog when I felt it did not understand its criteria. I believed in that instance more confusion would arise if my dog continued to fail without me having opportunity to break the behaviour down and then use positive reinforcement to regain understanding.

A few years ago Mark withdrew Kodi from competition for several months to go to shows where he could take a toy with him into a ring and help Kodi understand his job better. He had been marked for a high contact at a main event. If it wasn't good enough for the judge then he needed a better performance. The following year he won his final 2 tickets and was made up to Agility Champion Bekkis Carbon Copy :)

In contact sessions at our club we used various proofing methods around the performance in an environment where if the dog gets it right it can have a jackpot reward and if the dog fails it can try again with the same distraction or with a slightly lesser distraction. An example is throwing a football along the ground as the dog comes over the apex of the Aframe. If the dog fails it can be changed to just having the ball dropped or thrown after dog in position etc until dog can learn to maintain criteria even when the ball is thrown.

Those are examples of what I consider to be training.

Below is a lovely run that Rhyme gave me where I rewarded his criteria of waiting for the release with an exciting ready, steady go that he has learned to love. Is it training in the ring or just reinforcing the behaviour I want in a testing environment?

As I said I don't know that I have the answers to the questions I have raised so your comments and own thoughts are appreciated.

If you are struggling to think of ideas of how to up the anti in training environments where you can train your dog successfully to avoid the need to think about replacing your dog on contacts please drop me an email and we can see if we can arrange a training session or two :)