Thursday, August 16, 2012

Long Term Change

Recently someone posed the question of whether or not the exercises of Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed program effect long term change in a dog.

I think this question is an excellent one, and in my experience, the answer is a resounding "Absolutely"!!

My first experience with CU came with Dean back when the first book had just come out.  He had been taking Agility classes, but he went ballistic, barking and lunging and losing his head, when dogs ran on the course.  I used all of the conventional methods that are recommended for that.  I tried distracting him with incompatible behaviors.  He would have none of that.  I tried playing tug, which really only got him even more riled up.  I tried moving far enough away for him to remain somewhat calm, and had him watch me.  Didn't help.

I had reached a point where I had to make a decision.  Option 1 - manage the problem instead of trying to help him work through it.  I did not care for Option 1 because I wanted to trial with him and he needed to actually be in the ring with a running dog in order to do that.  Option 2 - resort to correction.  I knew in my heart that was not the answer.  Option 3 - do some legwork to try to find a method that I did not yet know to help him through reinforcement.

I chose Option 3.  I knew there had to be a way.

Before finding CU, I purchased Susan Garrett's Shaping Success, hoping to find the answer there.  I didn't.  I started keeping my eye on internet message boards, and one day something caught my eye - a recommendation for the Control Unleashed book.  It had just come out.  I went on Amazon, read the description, thought it sounded perfect, and I ordered it.

I'll never forget the day it came.  I was out in my front yard, and I remember alternating between being moved to tears and being absolutely shocked by what I read!

Leslie McDevitt was the first author I read who didn't blame issues like motion trigger on the handler.  She was the first author I read who didn't insist that lack of focus is a result of the handler not being interesting enough.  Her approach was completely reinforcement based, and much of it was new to me.

One of the shocking parts of the program was the Look at That Game.  I had always learned "what you click is what you get".  I was appalled at the idea of clicking when my dog was looking at something other than myself!  I envisioned the result as a dog who ran around looking at other things all the time!

But then I remembered something.  Years before, when I was working with Speedy on desensitization to the presence of other dogs, I had used a technique from the book "Click to Calm" that worked wonders for him.  I would sit with him, at a distance from other dogs that was comfortable for him, and I would watch his eyes.  When I saw him looking calmly at another dog (instead of having a worried expression), I would pop a treat in his mouth.  It wasn't long before his eyes were lighting up with joy as other dogs walked by.  And it wasn't long before I didn't need to stuff treats in his mouth for him to be comfortable around other dogs.

I knew that I had to try LAT with Dean.  I had nothing else and I knew it couldn't make things any worse.

I put Dean in a beginning level Agility class where the other dogs wouldn't be running around at first.  While we waited our turn on the sidelines, I taught him CU Mat Work, and I began to teach him LAT.  The results surprised the heck out of me.  By the fifth week of class, he could be on the floor while a dog was running or jumping, watch the dog, and remain calm.

What surprised me even more was that the result generalized to other situations.  He had been triggered by moving cars.  No more.  He really learned that he could remain in his right mind around things in motion.

Dean is almost 7 years old and he has never regressed back into being a motion triggered dog.  And yes, even when I don't have treats on me!

CU came to the rescue for Dean and me again when he was having a particularly difficult time with stress.  Even though I have always trained using reinforcement, Dean went through a period of time where he would immediately become stressed any time I would try to do a training session with him.  I was on the verge of giving up on training him for sports when I saw Leslie do a demonstration of the Give Me a Break game at camp.  Later that same afternoon, I took a few minutes to work Dean in a Give Me a Break structure and within that one session he went from worried to begging for more training.

He can run entire Rally courses and perform Freestyle routines because of Give Me a Break.  We rarely need to play the game anymore.

I have always wished that CU had come along sooner for Speedy but the one CU application that has helped him in a lasting way is the Off Switch Game.  A picture speaks far louder than words here.

Speedy before Off Switch Games:  (Note the mouth action and default circling)

Speedy after Off Switch Games:  (Many years after we actually played the games)

Off Switch games saved Speedy's performance career, and at 11 years old, he is still dancing in his right mind, and loving every minute of it.

I could go on and on - about using GMAB with Maddie to transform her from a super sniffy Agility dog to one who ran beautifully at outdoor trials, about using CU games with Tessa to give her confidence and joy in situations that used to scare her.

Of course CU isn't an instant fix-all.  Incorporation of CU games into my training has required trying different things in different situations, exercising patience when the dog needs more time to learn the structures and how they fit into new situations, and plain and simple experience.

But the benefits of the CU program have been drastic (in a good way!) and lasting for my dogs.  I can't imagine training without CU tools.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Basics Saturday

Today we took some time to review some basics.  For Sammie and Speedy this is really just for fun.  Neither of them really care what we do, as long as we train!  For Dean it was an exercise to sharpen his skills.  And Tessa really is still learning.

Speedy started out in front of me.  A stand in position, then sit, down, sit, stand.  Then he did a down from a stand and a stand from a down.  We repeated this in heel and side.

He did very well.  He has to maneuver himself into a sit, and he is slow to down, but I'm not really worried about either of those things.  He's old!

After that, for fun, I did some verbal movement from position to position - front, heel, side.  He did some spins and some twirls.

He enjoyed the session.

Then Dean had a turn.  We did the same things.  He really nails those splat downs!!  He needs a bit of work on his standing, so he doesn't automatically pivot to my side!  He also needs to do a bit more verbal position work.  About the only position he is rock solid on is heel.

Then Tessa came out.  Of course her work was more extensive.  She sat in front of me readily enough, but got confused on the down.  She was certain she was going to offer paws!!  I guess we have done quite a lot of trick work in front in recent months.  I helped her with a big hand signal and she got it.  In heel and side, she went from sit to down readily enough.

We need to work on stands, and on sits from downs.  I haven't even touched stand from a down, although she does down from a stand pretty well.

Since that was a lot of thinking for her, we moved on to prop work.  She liked that.  She did her pivots, and we worked on her circling the pedestal.  I also introduced the paw work that I am hoping to incorporate into her Freestyle routine.

After that, we did some pivot work where she is starting to work on pivoting toward me.  This is a huge challenge for her.  I used a small pedestal, just for her feet, to help her along.  We are starting with her on the right side since it is her stronger pivoting side.  I think this will progress well once she is more used to it.

Then I got her hoop out.  With the hoop on the ground we worked on circles in each direction aroud me, with her going through the hoop.  Then, separately, we worked on having her jump through it.  I held it about 6 inches off the ground in a space where she could not go around it.  She did well with it - better than I expected.

This hoop work is really going to help build her confidence.

Finally, Sammie got a turn.  I let him play with the hoop, too, and we did sits, downs, and stands in front and on my right side.  Sammie loves those splat downs!!

Afterward, I got Dean back out and we just did a bit with pivots on the pedestal.  Dean liked that!

It was a good back to basics day!