Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Picky parker

March 5-6, 2014

Our March trip started a day earlier than usual. Tammy picked me up on Wednesday evening instead of Thursday morning. Our plan was to stay in Grayling for the night so we could get a jump on to Chippewa by 10:30 a.m. Warden Woods wants to expand the puppy-raising program! This meant that we were going to get a tour of a level 2 unit that is up for consideration.

Tammy's jouney started Sunday. That's when she picked up the Leader Dogs for the Blind van filled with dog food and airline crates. And a male GSD (German Shepherd dog) puppy named Dax that we were to deliver to Baraga after our Chippewa session. "He screamed all the way home and all night," Tammy said. Dax settled for the next two nights, letting her sleep in until 5:00 a.m. Lucky for her.

When I threw my gear into the van, Dax squawked a few minutes, but the rhythmic roll of I-75 lulled him quiet. It was after 9:00 p.m. when we pulled into Grayling and not much was open for Tammy to grab a bite of dinner. We circled back to the McDonals on the business loop. Not our first choice (ever) but Tammy was hungry. The place was empty. Empty that is until a bus full of high school kids from my home county rolled up. Coach "Big Mike" and his basketball team rushed the counter before we could put in an order.

"Let's just get to the hotel," Tammy said.

We have a system. First we check in, haul bags and set up Tammy's soft travel crates. Then we get the puppies out of the airline crates. FLD Harper picked his parking spot quickly and he and I headed for the room. About a half hour later, Tammy came in with FLD Dax. No go. "Just when you think, 'okay, he's going to go,' someone would drive in and he's be like, 'what's that?!'" she said.

I volunteered to take him back out. No luck. We let him play with Harper for a while before Tammy tried again. Not long after she returned triumphant. "He pooped!" she said. Only a puppy raiser could understand the joy of a puppy who poops!

Our picky parker wasn't done. In the crate by 11:30 p.m., Dax didn't wail too long but he got me up at 2:00 a.m. to pee. He screamed for 45 minutes. Up again at 4:00 a.m. followed by another 45 minute serenade. As I put Dax back into his crate at 5:45 a.m., Tammy was parking herself.

"Are we up?" I asked. "NO. I am NOT up!" she said.

But Dax decided that we were...


Monday, April 21, 2014

An afternoon at warp speed

January 31, 2014

Tammy finishes FLD Copo's paperwork and comes over to see what I am up to with Axel's team. She wants to start "class" but decides our recall game fits in with her training plan. She says, "Keep going. I'll go over and do the same thing with Bear's team."

One thing leads to another. Axel's raisers ask what else they could do to discourage the pup from being so mouthy. He is better than when he first arrived, but there is room for improvement.

I have an idea. Both teams had done some nice "leave it" work with the puppies.

A man dressed in a royal blue shirt and a darker blue fleece jacket is sprawled out on a white tile floor on the left side of the picture. A young black lab puppy is lying next to him facing the camera. The puppy has a bit of kibble on each of his front paws which are stretched out in front of him. The puppy is on a grey mat. The man is pointing to the puppy's paws with his right hand. About a foot in front of hte puppy on the floor is another piece of kibble. The puppy is staring at the kibble on the floor, but not moving a muscle.
FLD Bear balances two bits of kibble on his front paws and is staring down a third bit on the floor. Good "leave it!"

"We can use the same technique to help Axel not chew on your hands," I say, referring to the "leave it" command. I take a handful of kibble and put a few in my right hand and the rest in my left. "The treats in my right hand are poison. Axel will NEVER get a treat from this hand," I say, offering my right fist to the puppy.

Axel immediately wraps his teeth around my fingers. I stay still and don't let him have any "poison" kibble. It is difficult. I lift my hand in the air to give my skin a break from his shark-puppy teeth. I try again. Axel tries to devour my hand again. I grit my teeth and hold on.

Axel lets go of my hand for a nano-second. I say "YES!" and offer him a treat from my left hand. He gladly partakes. I remove my left hand and present my right fist again. He goes for it. Before long he backs away and is rewarded with another YES! and a treat from my left hand. After about four times, Axel tastes my hand with much less gusto and backs away much sooner.

I tell the guys that rewarding Axel every time he backs away from mauling their hands will help him learn to leave hands alone.

Tammy gathers everyone together. She asks me to show the group what I've been doing with Axel. My right hand needs a break. I switch hands and set the reward kibble on some books that were piled on a nearby chair. Tammy planned to use the books for a rear leg training exercise.

A woman with short brown hair wearing glasses and a marroon shirt and bluejeans is kneeling on the floor with her left fist in the mouth of a small yellow lab puppy. Her right hand is on her right knee. The yellow lab is facing the right and his tail is wagging as he chomps down ont he woman's fist. Next to the woman on the left side of the photo is a blue plastic chair. About 11 books are piled on the seat of the chair. The woman is making a surprised expression, her eyes and mouth are wide open.
FLD Axel mauls my hand but does not succeed in getting the "poison" treats. After only a few tries, he has no interest in my hand at all. (Photo compliments of Dr. Donna.)

Demo done, Tammy takes the floor. Axel, however, now decides he want more kibble. He leaps up, trying to snatch what I've left on top of the pile of books. One of Axel's raisers snaps his fingers and points to the floor. Axel drops down. The raiser hands him a treat. The pups jumps up straight away. Fingers snap. Four on the floor gains a treat. Again. "He jumps up on us like that when we're lying on our bunks watching TV," one of the men says. He says they snap their fingers or tell Axel "down" and reward him when he gets down.

"So how's that working for you?" I ask. They shake their heads. "Let's try this instead," I say as Axel leaps for the treats that are just out of his reach. "Just wait him out."

After a few attempts at the kibble, Axel's front paws hit the deck. "YES!" I say and drop a bit of kibble on the floor.* We repeat. Soon Axel looses interest and wanders off to attack a Nylabone lying a few feet away.

Back to work. Tammy guides the teams through a ladder exercise designed to teach the pups about their back legs. Did you know that puppies oftentimes struggle with stairs because they don't realize they have back legs?

Men dressed in the blue and orange striped prison uniforms sit in the background watching an inmate raiser guide his yellow lab puppy through the rungs of a ladder. The ladder is laying on the tile floor toward the camera. The raiser on the left is mostly out of view, He is bending at the waits and his left hand is holding the collar of the yellow lab puppy. The puppy is stepping over the rungs of the ladder, looking right at the camera.
FLD Axel's raiser supports the pup at the collar as he steps over each rung. This exercise helps the puppy learn to maneuver his back legs.

After each puppy makes his way through the ladder three times, Tammy explains how to let the puppies learn to make good decisions without always telling them what to do. A thinking puppy grows up to be a Leader Dog that is comfortable making decisions. She demonstrates with FLD Harper how to work past temptations on the floor.

A woman with short white hair and glasses, wearing a grey sweatshirt and blue jeans, holds the leash of an older golden retriever puppy. They are on the left side of the photo. The puppy is wearing the baby blue "working" vest that identifies him as a puppy in training for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Several men are sitting int he background watching. One in the middle is holding the leash of the small yelllow lab, who is standing and watching the other dog intently.
Tammy heels FLD Harper past a ball that she strategically placed on the floor. When he tries to get it, Tammy stops and waits for Harper to ease tension on the leash and turn his attention away from the ball. Then she continues. FLD Axel watches intently.

Tammy talks to the teams about ignoring bad behavior and rewarding the behavior we want. She explains the importance of staging training in low distraction settings, what to manage and when it is okay to "lure" a puppy through a crowd or past a big distraction. We discuss raising criteria when a puppy "knows" a command (not treating for each and every "sit" for example) and how to ration the kibble. "If your puppy only has, say, 50 bits of kibble to use as rewards for the day, you'll have to think about when you are doing to give him those 50 bits," I say. Save them for training sessions and for exceptional behavior.

There is so much information to cover we never get to the leg exercise with the books. That will have to wait for another visit.

All this work makes for tired puppies.

The small yellow lab is fast asleep on the tile floor. He is wearing a blue bandana. His leash is being held by a man that is out of the picture, except for his legs. The man's left leg is extended out next to the puppy. The man is wearing blue pants and white tennis shoes.
A very sleepy FLD Axel.

And, my guess, fairly full raiser brains.

A man dressed in the prison blue uniform is sitting on the floor with his legs extended out in front of him. His hands are floded iin his lap. He is leaning against a metal cart which has a large yellow ball on it. A small black lab puppy is lying tot he left on a grey mat. He is wearing a blue bandana.
FLD Bear snoozes next to inmate raiser Chad.

A man dressed in the prison blue uniform and a blue knit cap is holding a very small black lab puppy in his left arm. He has the pup's leash in his left hand. He has a chew toy in his right hand and is offering it to the puppy. The puppy is snuggling his head into the man's chest. The man is looking down at the puppy.
Time for this raiser to get acquainted with his new puppy, FLD Copo.

*Some time later I learn that dropping treats on the floor is not appropriate for Future Leader Dog puppies. Anything we can do to discourage our puppies from dive bombing things on the floor or ground is important. Thus, a better approach is to treat the puppy close to the floor from the hand.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Training chat: part two

January 31, 2014

"So, we should never let him pull?" one of FLD Axel's raisers asks after my loose leash walking demonstration. "Correct!" I reply.

The team has more concerns. "He doesn't know 'come' very well," they say, not an uncommon issue among puppy raisers. And dog owners in general.

"Practice name recognition instead," I say. "Don't even use the word 'come.'"

Name recognition is one of my favorite exercises with my puppies, especially when we are just hanging out in the house together. First my puppy learns to look at me whenever I say his name (he gets a treat!); then I practice calling his name frequently throughout the day. Sometimes he is chewing on a toy across the room from me, sometimes he is in another room playing with my cc'd dog or checking things out, sometimes he's sniffing for crumbs under the kitchen table. I call his name ONCE and ALWAYS reward him with a treat when he comes to me.

It doesn't take long for a puppy to figure out that it is worth his while to come running!

FLD Axel does know his name -  he will look at his raisers when they say it. "I'll bet that I can get Axel to come to me," I say to them. I ask Axel's handler to hold the pup. I walk several feet away. "When I call his name, let him go," I say as I kneel to the floor. I use my high-pitched excited "baby" voice and call, "Axel!" The puppy looks over at me. The handler releases him, but Axel stays where he is. "Puppy, puppy, puppy!" I say, slapping my thighs and shaking my head. The bundle of fur bounds over with his leash flopping behind him. He almost knocks me over with enthusiasm and I get a bonus face wash. "Good boy!" I say. He gets a treat and some loving.

"Now you call him," I say, taking hold of Axel's collar and withdrawing my attention. The raiser says his name. Axel pays him no mind. The raiser raises the tone and animation of his voice. "Axel!" The puppy zooms over like a six-year-old who hears the jingle of an ice-cream truck on a hot summer day.

"Let's all play," I say, pulling Axel's other two raisers into a circle. The handler tells the others, "You have to get your feminine voice on." The men laugh as one by one they squeak out Axel's name. The pup thinks this game is a blast!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Training chat

January 31, 2014

While Tammy and FLD Copo's raisers were filling out paperwork, FLD Axel's team posed lots of questions to me. They had only had the energetic yellow fellow for a few weeks.

Two men, and a thrid one blocked mostly from view behind them, sit and squat with a small yellow lab puppy. The puppy is getting up from lying down on a green dog bed. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle patch with the words Future Leater Dog and a black paw print. Hi is sniffing the air toward the men's hands. The men are wearing the blue prison uniforms with orange stripes on the arms and legs. The man on the left is holding the leash with his right hand. His elbows are on his knees (he is sitting on metal seat attached to a lunch talbe) and his left hand is near the puppy's head. He is holding a bit of kibble in his left hand. The man on the right is squatting with his elbows on his thighs. His hands are togehter in front of the puppy's face and he also has kibble in them.
FLD Axel's raisers demonstrate some skills-in-progress. Note the bits of kibble in their hands. And Axel's interest!

Much of what the team was doing with Axel is what we term "luring."

As defined on Karen Pryor's Clicker Training website: (http://www.clickertraining.com/glossary/17#letterl), luring is "A hands-off method of guiding the dog through a behavior. For example, a food lure can be used to guide a dog from a sit into a down. This is a common method of getting more complex behaviors. Lures are usually food, but they may also be target sticks or anything else the dog will follow. Trainers must take care to fade the lure early."

Luring is okay when a puppy is first learning a new behavior, or when you need to manage a situation, like getting your puppy quickly from "A" to "B" past a lot of distractions and you don't have the time to actively train avoidance. But, as Pryor's definition states, luring should be phased out.

It was time to phase it out for Axel. "Don't keep the kibble in your hands," I advised. "Use a marker word like YES! to let Axel know he's doing a good thing." We had quite the discussion about how the marker word, given at the exact moment of the correct behavior, lets the puppy know it is doing the right thing. The marker also alerts the puppy that a reward is forthcoming - it is a bridge from the behavior to the reward.

"Show us what you mean," the men said.

I had noticed that both Axel and Bear pulled on leash. Not an uncommon issue for all puppies. Loose leash walking is a skill that we work on, always. Bear's team had figured out that placing their hand over the pup's chest helped slow him down. Good problem solving, but there are other ways to help the pups overcome an opposition reflex that makes not pulling so difficult to learn.

I asked for Axel's leash, and a handful of kibble which I dropped out of sight into the right pocket of my jeans. "Axel," I said. The gorgeous pup looked up. "Yes!" I said. I then pulled a treat from my pocket and presented it to him in such a way that his head followed my right hand and his body swung around into heel position at my left side. 

I took two steps. Axel stepped with me. His leash was loose. I said, "Yes!" and brought another treat to his nose at my left leg. As I stepped forward again, Axel gathered up steam and the leash tightened. I stopped. Said nothing. Held the leash firmly with both hands at my waist.

When Axel figured out he wasn't going anywhere, he turned and looked back at me. "Yes!" I said and presented another bit of kibble. We took another step together. "Yes!" Kibble.

There wasn't much room to walk very far, but I hoped the guys had caught my gist.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Or maybe I talk too much

January 31, 2014

Do you think it is something about my voice? Or is it that I just bond well with the puppies I raise? LD Dutch's reaction to my voice when we visited him and his new handler at Leader Dogs for the Blind last week reminded me of FLD Bear's reaction during this visit back to Baraga. Bear had lived with me for a mere 10 days before Tammy and I delivered him and FLD Axel to the inmate raisers at the Baraga Correctional Facility on January 9. 

FLD Bear was lying on his mat with his raisers on the far side of the chow hall in Unit 8 when we arrived for FLD Copo's handoff. Bear heard my voice, his raisers told me, and he jumped up to look for me.

A small black lab is standing on a grey rug on a tile floor, looking intently at the camera. He is wearing a blue bandana with a white triangle with red letters that say Future Leader Dog and a black paw print. Two men are with the pup. One is on the left side and he is lying on his side, propped up on his left elbow. He is wearing blue pants and shirt and a blue jacket. He is holding a brown leash in his left hand and is reaching toward the puppy with his right hand. He is looking at the puppy and smiling. The other man is kneeling behind the puppy on the right and is holding the puppy's back haunches with his hands. He is wearing the blue prison pants and shirt iwth an orange stripe on the sholders. He is looking at the camera and smiling.
"He recognizes your voice," one says. The other adds, "I think he remembers you." Indeed, I think he does!

I didn't want to distract FLD Bear too much, so instead of getting down on the floor with him like I wanted to, I meandered to the other side of the room, chatting with inmates on my way to see how FLD Axel and his team were doing..at much the same speed as this run-on sentence!

A young yellow lab puppy is halfway lying on a green dog bed. The pup is wearing a blue bandaa, with the same patch and his name "Axel" embroidered on it with a peace sign. The pup is looking up at someone out of view to the right of hte picture. His leash is extented off camera to the left.A pair of feet wearing white shoes are in the background.
FLD Axel looks up to his raiser.

Eventually I made my way over to FLD Axel. Tammy was busy filling out the puppy-raiser contract with Copo's raisers and reviewing the paperwork that outlines raiser responsibilities.

I had time to chat...

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Another quick interruption...

Just in case you haven't heard, LD Dutch is going to...Pennsylvania! His handler, Gail, lives there with her husband and 24 chickens, a dog and two cats. Gail tells me that her six grandchildren are anxious to meet Dutch, who is her first Leader Dog.

We had the pleasure of meeting Gail at Leader Dogs for the Blind last Saturday. To read all about it, visit my "other" blog: plays with puppies. (Yes, Dutch was excited to see me, to say the least!)

Congratulations to the new team!

A woman wearing sunglasses is sitting on a chair facing the camera. She is wearing a gray long sleeved shirt and black pants (covered with golden retriever hair!). She is hold a leash in her left hand and touching the head of a golden retriever with her right hand. The golden is lying on the floor at her feet just to her right. He is wearing a Leader Dogs guidng harness and is looking at the camera with his tongue out and a big smile.
LD Dutch and his handler Gail.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

FLD Copo!

January 31, 2014

Maybe RUM Steve wanted the other inmates to see Copo too. Maybe he wanted to show the regular population what they could aspire to, if they towed the line. Maybe he just wanted us to bring Copo into the "training room" without Copo's raiser seeing him.
Whatever reason, we entered Unit 8 through the east entrance, paraded through the chow hall, down hallways past glass-walled offices, snaked around a crowded common room, squeezed through a warm, noisy laundry room, until finally we arrived at the west side chow hall where we had the room to ourselves for training. 
All puppy-raiser teams were there. Copo's raiser, standing tall, had his back to us. I scurried around him so I could capture the moment...

A tall man wearing a dark blue long sleeved shirt and a blue knit cap is facing the camera on the left side. He is smiling and his eyes are closed. To the right behind him is a shorter woman with short white hair and glasses, she is wearing a red fleece jacket. She is holding something behind the man's back out of view and is looking at it, it appears she is laughing. In the far background are two men standing, one is african american and is wearing a white t-shirt, the other man is bald and has sunglasses on the top of his head and is wearing a black jacket.
Copo's raiser is excited to meet his puppy. Puppy-counselor Tammy is about to make his day.

The tall man has his eyes open now and is still smiling. The woman behind him is lifting a small black lab puppy over his left shoulder. The puppy's right paw is on the man's shoulder.
It is a high lift for Tammy to bring Copo over his raiser's shoulder.

The small black lab puppy sniffs the cheek of his new raiser. The man is taking hold of the puppy's blue collar with his left hand and is looking at the puppy with a huge smile on his face.
Hello, Copo!

A close up shot of the man and the puppy. The puppy is looking sweetly at the camera and being held in the man's arms. The man's right hand is holding the puppy securely. The man is smiling and tooking at the puppy. The puppy's front paws are resting onthe man's upper chest.
There are no words for this...

Three men dressed in dark blue shirts are standing in a row against a steel wall. The man in the middle is the same one from the previous photos, he is holding the black lab puppy in his left arm and his right hand is holding the puppy's front paws. A brown leash is hanging down in front. The puppy and the man are looking right at the camera. The man on the left is looking to the right, he has a very short buzz cut and a slight beard on his chin. The man on thr right is also looking right, he is holding his hands together at the front of his body. He is smiling, but his mouth is closed. He also has a short buzz cut and some beard on his chin.
FLD Copo and his puppy raisers.