Saturday, March 25, 2017

Verbal Cues

Six months ago I made a decision to stop all work on verbal cues with Bandit, and focus on attitude, focus, and bringing enjoyment into our training together, especially our Freestyle training. 

That was one of the best decisions that I have ever made!  Since that time Bandit and I have truly started to know one another as training partners.  Our communication has improved, and our enjoyment of training has skyrocketed right through the roof!

And now we are at a point, with certain behaviors, where we are ready to start working on putting some of his trained behaviors on verbal cue.

I think that some people got the impression, when I made the decision to put all verbal cue training on a six month "hold", that I am against the training and use of verbal cues.

That, actually, is not the case.  With some dogs, in certain contexts, there is a time and a place for the use of well-trained verbal cues.  In addition, there are dogs who respond very well to verbal cues - with clear understanding and enthusiasm.  For those dogs, the use of verbal cues is perfectly appropriate.

What I am against (for myself) is approaching the discipline of Canine Musical Freestyle as an exercise in the performance of trained behaviors on verbal cues to music.  When one of my dogs and I perform a Freestyle routine, we are creating art together.  Freestyle is a form of expression - of who the dog is, of our bond, and of the joy that we find in the performance.  It is not a display of verbal cues.

That said, again, there is certainly a time and a place for verbal cues.

Since I do not want to fall into the same mistakes that I made, both with Tessa and Bandit, when I tried to train verbal cues in the past, I have come up with a detailed plan for our work with verbal cues.

Kristine and Bandit's Verbal Cue Training Plan

1. I will not take on a "stiff" demeanor because we are working on verbal cues.

I will strive to always keep my body language "loose" and natural.

2.  I will ensure that each behavior that is to be put on verbal cue is being performed consistently with strength, understanding, confidence, and joy on physical cue before making any attempt to put that behavior on verbal cue.

3. When working on verbal cue training, I will approach it as a game.  The introduction of the verbal cue is simply a new twist to the game.

4. When first working on verbal cues, I will reinforce all attempts on the part of the dog to avoid deflating Bandit.  Incorrect attempts will be reinforced with a treat of lower value, or with just one treat.  Correct attempts will be reinforced with a very high value reinforcer, or with a mini-jackpot.

5.  I will use verbal cues that Bandit already knows to work on the concept of listening for cues:  Whiplash Turns, Releases to Hand Touch on verbal, Releases to Leg Weaves on verbal, Spins and Twirls in center position, and Splat Downs.

6.  When putting a verbal cue on a new behavior, I will use a "food anchor" to help Bandit first listen, and then respond.  In addition, I will support his movements and choices with my eyes.

7.  Once Bandit begins to respond correctly and consistently to new verbal cues, I will have him practice by working on opposite behaviors in the same training session, and we will play "find the cue".

8.  Once Bandit knows a small selection of Freestyle behaviors on verbal cue, and he is performing those behaviors consistently, and with understanding and joy, we will introduce verbal cues into simple movement phrases.  I will remember to keep my arms and body language "loose" and natural.  No stiffness!

9.  I will remember though all of this that verbal cues are a tool.  They can be used selectively to enhance our dances.  We are not showcasing verbal cues - we are showcasing Bandit and our dance.

I am not striving for Bandit to "do everything on verbal", but to be ambidextrous - equally able to perform behaviors on obvious and supporting physical cues, and on prudently chosen verbal cues.

I will remember this!


I am excited about this because I believe that Bandit and I are really ready to take this challenge on at this stage of our work together.

It will be an adventure, not an obligation.  Perfect!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Introducing Rocky

We have a new dog!  Well, as of this past New Years Eve we have had him.  I have only just now gotten around to updating this blog since then!

My husband and I had been talking about adding a fourth dog for quite a while.  We had gone back and forth and back and forth, and had actually decided not to add a new dog at this time.  Of course, we were thinking about a Border Collie, or Border Collie mix, and were planning to adopt through rescue.

On New Years Eve, I was driving us home from church, and Ben suddenly said, "Look out - there's a dog!"  I didn't even see him at first, but then there he was - a small dog meandering up the road, in my lane.  Of course, there was a car coming in the other direction, but that person got over enough for me to just manage to squeeze by the dog.

At that point, the dog ran off the road into someone's yard.

We stopped, hoping that we would be able to catch the dog, and that he would have ID.  He was super easy to catch.  We called to him and he stopped and let us approach.  Just to be safe, we looped Ben's belt around the dog's collar and led him to the car, and he got right in.

At first we were very happy - he had a tag.  And then . . . it turned out to be a rabies tag.  That was it.  No ID.  No address.  No way to figure out where he belonged.

It wasn't terribly late, but it was dark and nobody was around outside in the area.

So, we took him home, knowing that we would probably have to hold him until Monday, when we could call the vets office to see if they could hook us up with his owner.

We could tell that he was a little Beagle mix of some sort, and he seemed to be young.  Not a baby puppy - we guessed about one or two years old.

We got him home and put him in a crate with some food and water, and put the ex-pen around it to keep our dogs back away from him.

He stunk to high heaven.  It wasn't a horrible smell -  he smelled like a farm.  But in the house it was strong, so we ended up giving him a bath, which was no problem.

By this time we could tell he was friendly, and pretty compliant.  He didn't try to bite, or fight us in any way.  I am not sure that he had ever been in a crate in his life, but he put up with sitting in there, near the space heater, while he dried off.

The boys seemed curious about him, and Tessa acted like she would like to get in there to bite his head off!!  Tessa has never taken well to new dogs coming into our house.

Ben really took to him.  Before long, Ben was carrying him around, and holding him, and taking him out when he needed to go.  By the time Monday rolled around, the little dog - who was completely nameless to us at that point - was like "Ben's little dog"!!

I had a Freestyle practice at the training building on that Monday morning.  I planned to call the vets office and see if I could get the owners info.  I told Ben that I would give his number to the owner and have them call him to make arrangements to get him back.

I did call the vets office, and they told me that they would get in touch with the owners and have them call me.  Several minutes later, I got a phone call.  The woman on the other end said, "I hear you have our dog!" 

Since I was on my way to the building, I gave her Ben's number so she could work out the dog's return with him directly.

When I got home, I was in for a surprise.  Ben had spoken with the woman's husband and he had asked if we wanted to keep him!

We talked about it, very briefly.  We knew right away that we did want to keep him.  We called them back and made arrangements to buy him for a very reasonable fee, mostly to make it official. 

It turns out that he is a mix between a Beagle and a Smooth Fox Terrier.  He is about two years old.  He ran loose on their farm and slept in a shed on the property.  He is very friendly and loves children.  And his name was Buddy.

The owners were having a difficult time keeping Buddy from running off.  They tried tethering him, but he did not like it (knowing him now, I am sure he screamed bloody murder on a tether!), so they continued to allow him to run free.  They were concerned that he would eventually get hit by a car, which, of course, is what almost happened!

And so, we now have a "Beagle Terrier"!  He has presented his share of challenges, but we really do love the little stinker! 

How could anyone not love this face?

We changed his name to "Rocket", but soon changed that to "Rocky"

This is very typical Rocky!!

He is, especially, Ben's dog!