Thursday, October 11, 2012

POST 8 - Raising the Ideal K9 Partner and the Perfect Companion

Just More of the Same Stuff... But Different

Not every post will contain brilliant results and amazing performances. This post will be bringing you much of the same stuff as last post. Lots of interaction, some ball play, retrieval, meeting new people and building a few new behaviours.

The first video contains some very simple search exercises, with little for Nick to do but search. Very little distraction (compared to what he is used to), short distance, very dense grass/golden rod, etc. All 3 searches were completed in the same basic area but not within range of one another to create too much confusion through contamination (although I cannot smell what a dog smells so I could be wrong). The first search was completed off to the right hand side, was quite simple and Nick completed it with relative ease. The second however, found Nick patterning and attempting to search where he last found me, even though he saw me leave straight away from his kennel. He went to the area where he last found me and eventually worked his way to the left and hit my new track which he quickly picked up and followed in to find me. The third was set up as an attempt to completely stray from this pattern by giving him little choice as to which direction to go. This was (in hindsight) a great idea. It gave him the opportunity to move quickly toward my location without having to deal with the difficult long grass. As he ran past my location he immediately realized that he was off track, his head came up, he turned around, nose went down and he followed my trail right into my hiding spot. Perfect find.

Going forward, I will do more of these types of searches, keeping them short and simple. I will also be doing some short tracks on-lead to help him keep on track and keep his nose down a little as well as some other "shell games" to work his nose a bit.
I have been working on some obedience behaviours on the side to build some intensity and sharper response. It is working nicely, Nick is downing on request at 20' away but the best part is that when I release him he flies at me with great intensity giving me a great opportunity to reinforce a speedy recall. I really like building a strong behaviour that can be manipulated to benefit other behaviours that might otherwise be performed the same way.

One thing of note, Nick is growing up nicely. He appears to be entering a developmental period, some refer to it as a fear impact period where his awareness to objects in his environment or situations cause a different reaction than I am accustomed to seeing. Of course, I did anticipate this simply because all puppies seem to go through this at stages in their development. Nicks responses range from low woofing to piloerection to jumping back. So far every reaction is short-lived, especially if I advance towards the cause of his concern. Nick follows me in to investigate and the situation goes right back to normal. No ongoing barking, growling or carrying on and no avoidance. He is not one to become overly anxious or distraught. He appears to have great confidence in me and how I handle things so I am happy with that.

There is more video to post but right now I am just too busy and tired to get to it. I wanted to cover a number of topics including what Nick is being fed but just cannot find it in me right now.

Cheers all!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

POST 7 - Raising the Ideal K9 Partner and the Perfect Companion

Variations on Retrieval Exercises

Most of what I/we do with the pups in training is spontaneous. I may refer to these sessions as exercises, however, know that they are not normally planned, but instead are based on the moment, the environment, how motivated the dog appears to be, and what is present in the environment.

Normally, for situations where I am directing the puppy to retrieve, I would simply restrain the dog, toss the item, pause and then direct the puppy (with a hand signal) at the item while attaching a cue to the behaviour ("take it") as he launches away from me. I want this to become familiar to him, so that in future, the hand cue and request is something that he responds to without the need to toss something to incite motion in the direction I am pointing in order to direct him to retrieve or search for something. Eventually (for area searches), I will be tossing items into an open area, without the puppy present, bringing the puppy out and directing him into the approximate area where the object is so that he may conduct his own "sniffing" search, not relying on visuals to guide him or the motion of a thrown item to stimulate him.

The exercise below is a variation on this. As stated above, normally I would be tossing an item out and directing the puppy to it, however, I wanted to break away from the stimulation provided by the thrown object (I know he will retrieve objects if thrown... over and over and over....) and add in something a bit different. Something that may cause confusion but not so much that he could not work through it. You will see my daughter run out, I release Nick, but Nick does not really want to go (does not understand the exercise) and he sticks with me. This is where patience makes the difference. Instead of trying to repeatedly direct him to retrieve, I just simply stay frozen in the position that I directed him from and wait. Eventually, knowing Nick, he will offer the behaviour on his own, which he does and completes the exercise (see video).

In the second video, a variation of the first exercise is completed. This time the object is dropped and my assistant carries on a couple of steps further from the object. Note that the dog completes the pattern that  first worked for him by going to the assistant, but, on the way back he still retrieves the object, even though the context has changed. Although this is a subtle change, I have completed similar exercises with other puppies who did not adapt to it as well. Some opt to just pick up the stick, others run out and search the assistant and, not finding anything, return to me, without the object. Nick did everything that I wanted to see. I realize it does not seem like much on video, but, it shows me a great deal about how thorough he is and, when the situation changes, he does not become anxious, he just simply thinks through it.

The Reactions of Puppies: The Role of Suspicion in the GSD

The past summer has been a particularly busy time for myself and my family. Because of this, we have not had the usual interaction with the neighbours to the east side of our property. Over the summer, the brush, bushes, trees and deep grass that grow between the neighbouring property have become quite dense to where we cannot even see over there. Just yesterday morning, my good neighbour Mike was fiddling with the lock on his shed (recently installed due to a theft that occurred) when I called out to him to identify himself. He chuckled moving over to the border of our properties and chatted with me from behind the dense, overgrown brush. I asked him to come through and meet the new "guard dog", to which he said "sure" and crunched through the bushes in his rubber boots, dress pants and shirt (he is a school teacher dressed for school with the exception of the big rubber boots). Crashing through the dense foliage he suddenly appeared approximately 10 feet from where I was standing. Nicks immediate response was to run sideways with a deep bark, jump back and then quickly got in between us and stood his ground. No hackling, ears forward, tail up. Now, I generally do not encourage or discourage this behaviour as it is something that I feel is an important, natural response that I like to see. He (Nick) should be concerned with what just came through the bushes. He should alert me to it and should be  suspicious of the intruder's intent until proven otherwise. I quickly moved forward, past Nick, shook my neighbours hand and engaged him in conversation.  I believe I caught Nick off guard by passing him so quickly and, once he realized I had passed him, he quickly circled in from behind me and also engaged the neighbour, by walking up, bumping his rubber boots with his side as he passed and carrying on finishing his investigation of the area (where my dogs usually relieve themselves). There was no concern from him at this point, but he did flick a quick glance our way on occasion.

This is not the first time that this experience has played out. In a very similar event, my neighbour has had the unfortunate experience of wandering onto my property in the wee hours of the morning when he thought everyone was in bed, when in fact I was taking the dogs out for a bathroom break. It was 1:30am when he ventured onto our property and Carmspack Agro, then 6 months old, caught wind of him, snorted and tracked him barking ferociously toward the east side of our property and held him with a circling bark and hold which I could vaguely make out through the fog (late winter defrost made it a very mushy, foggy night). The intensity of his bark made my skin crawl as I had never heard this out of him, ever. My first thought was coyote or other animal was present but it turned out to be my neighbour. This bark and hold was never taught to this puppy, he did it naturally (and convincingly from what my neighbour described). Agro called off well, I put him in a down stay and called to my neighbour who responded in a shaky voice. I released the dog once my neighbour was found to be ok and that the dog had not touched him (and once the neighbour felt confident the dog was not going to dismantle him). Agro continued on his way to the bathroom spot, past my neighbour, gave him a little body bump across the knees as he went by. I apologized to my neighbour for the scare... and then asked him why he was on the property at 1:30am. Agro watched as we chatted for a bit but realized everything was fine and continued on with his agenda.

I think it is, at this point, important to note that although I have outlined two specific incidents in the last 2 paragraphs, the context in which they played out was similar. The first was a response of a puppy caught off guard, which you would anticipate would make him back off, but instead, he collected himself and simply stood his ground and confidently performed. The second incident was the response of an older puppy, in a situation where he detected a presence that I was unaware of which brought on a response that was, in my opinion, intense yet suitable for the context in which it occurred. The key word in this is "suitable", for both dogs in both situations. Nothing over-the-top... and both pups settled once I indicated to them that everything was fine (by interacting with the source of their concern) and that they did not need to continue to hold them off. I have grown accustomed to this response from the dogs that I raise... but not the majority of GSD's that I deal with.

I see so many dogs (German Shepherds mostly) that come to me for help with reactivity/aggression it is disturbing. Some of their handlers even read this blog and I hope they realize that they are not alone, that this is not simply a training or handling issue... this is an issue of nerves and an inability to think clearly under perceived pressure. This is about an inappropriate, anxious view of the world around them that can become a very serious problem with improper handling/management. The situations I have described above were not trained for, I was not physically handling either pup during each incident, yet both still responded to me over and above their response to a potential threat. That's clear thinking... as much as I would love to take credit for it and say it was my preparation that made it all happen, what it comes down to is what they are, combined with their experiences. This is a common trait that the majority of dogs that I raise seem to possess and what the majority that come to me for help seem to lack.

It is also important (in my opinion) that it is understood that the responses mentioned above made by Agro and now Nick are not something that occur each day. The puppies raised here regularly meet or see new people on my property, out in public, from their crates either in my house or the back of the truck without any response. They were/are always neutral with strangers, aware and watching them but never a growl, bark or so much as a hard stare. Ask anyone who has parked next to my vehicle at a schutzhund club, while out tracking or just about anywhere and they will tell you that it is hard to tell that I even have dogs in there (unless I have new puppies which want out to explore or bash their water buckets relentlessly). Quiet, calm and reserving energy for when it is needed. Bring them out and they work hard, put them away again and the only sound you hear is panting. Even my current pet, Carmspack Badger, possesses the same level-headedness. Even while other dogs are being trained in protection, Badger is calm in his crate. When brought out to be worked... he is very intense yet controllable. In future posts I may include some video of Badger doing protection work as an example.

Nick... Is He Really That Perfect?

Nothing is perfect. If there is anything that should be understood when bringing a puppy into your home, it is that there are going to be things that are not ideal. So far I have outlined how great Nick is, but for those of you wondering if I am exaggerating, I can say that he is just about perfect for my purposes. However, put him in a home where he might not be compatible and what I consider to be a positive attribute could be turned into something less than desirable. For instance, the sock retrieval exercise I mentioned a few posts ago... had someone decided they would take the opposite approach and pursue Nick for the socks... I can see this turning bad quickly, teaching the dog to snatch things and run to incite a game of chase. Further to this, his barking at other dogs and the cat initially could have gone off-track had I reinforced this in some way. But these are somewhat superficial things in the grand scheme. I say this because, often times, when issues develop with the dogs that I raise, their "depth" (for lack of a better word) allows me to change what I am doing and affect change. With many of the other dogs that I work with (in private training) this depth does not exist, and change can have little impact especially when a dog has poor nerves or does not have the "depth" needed to work with.

So, why do all of the exercises that I provide video of always end successfully?

I gear all exercises to the puppies strengths so that the outcome feeds the want to continue performing the underlying task in the exercise. I want to build obsession through success, not have constant confusion brought on by an exercise that cannot be understood. Yes, there must be challenge, sometimes frustration, but only to a level that can be worked through. I want to feed the fire with challenge and frustration, not smother it by creating confusion, conflict and helplessness. This is NOT to say that I do not make mistakes or occasionally gear an exercise a bit high for Nick on occasion, but success is not something that comes without some setbacks. There is no failure, that only happens when everyone gives up and we don't do that here... we simply adapt.

Below is a long piece of video which is a continuation of the session shown in the videos above. This is a bit advanced for Nick and/or pushed a bit too far. We end with success, however, with some modifications to the exercise. Nick is a puppy and cannot always fill in the blanks as I anticipate. I may not always clearly indicate what I am wanting, leaving Nick guessing at what he should do. Sometimes the motivation is just not there. What I expect in my mind might not match the picture in his so it is my job to be patient and get us rolling in the same direction. My daughter is also experiencing this, seeing it play out for herself, in real time. This will (hopefully) teach her the benefit of patience and following through with a plan by being part of the process and experiencing the payoff (success).

The Development of a Relationship

The development of a relationship between dog and handler is key to happy dog ownership. I am not talking about the cuddling, play or the special treats/toys that people seem to think that their dog will thank them for. I am talking about an understanding between dog and handler that is formed through having common goals, a clear understanding and a real "feel for each other" that cannot be simply "bought". It is about understanding and a motivation to do things together that both find rewarding.

Often times, clients that come to me for training advice list all of the efforts they made to build their dogs loyalty/attention/interest. This may include attempts at being very physically animated and interesting to the dog to stimulate a response, the usage of food treats or an assortment of toys used to generate play. These are all viable training tools, however, if not used properly, the results are often as shallow as the attempts to win the dog over in the first place. There may be flashes of interest generated by these attempts but responsiveness to and interest in the handler is contingent on the presence of these stimulus because there is not enough relationship built in conjunction with their usage. Once the effort on the part of the handler or the item of interest is gone or, if something more interesting comes along, the dog will opt to leave his handler for more interesting possibilities.

Please do not get me wrong. The use of reward-based training is, in my eyes, appropriate for reaching my particular goals. It is a mindset that I feel more people need to adopt when focussing on their training endeavours. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between rewarding and bribing that has to be acknowledged and many of the (inexperienced) reward-based trainers out there are not conveying the message to people about building a relationship because they are too busy preaching about the premise  behind what they are teaching (or they just simply have no clue). The result paints a very accurate picture that makes this once fine line much more defined and understandable, but often it is not until someone experiences the result that they begin to realize where things went wrong. There is more to reward-based training than simply being a Pez dispenser for treats or toys. There is a need to have good timing and an energy that builds enthusiasm and interest. On the other side of the fence, it has to be understood that respect cannot be forced. Compliance is not respect, nor is it a show of motivation... it is a show of helplessness or lack of choice. Personally, I prefer motivated and mildly out of control to fearful and inhibited.

The video below outlines a brief series of exercises (again spontaneous) that were intended to further Nicks social skills by providing him with a venue where he is surrounded by stimulus and he has choices to make. Ultimately, I would prefer for him to always pick me over running off to play with other dogs. I give him the choice, but there are strings attached. If you run off to see other dogs, you lose me (I will leave). You will notice that in each exercise, however, there is a great deal of management. The first video clip shows us near the east side of our boarding kennel where our exercise areas are positioned. The existing 7' high fence that keeps our guests contained to also act as a barrier for training, in this case, to keep contact to a minimum should Nick run off to greet the dogs. However, in this instance, Nick has little to no interest in joining them (very intimidating to have 10+ dogs singling you out and barking at you). I keep moving to keep him moving and, ultimately, keep him focussed on moving past the stimulus. He is concerned with the other dogs, which can also create an advantage, especially when doing retrieval exercises where he finds comfort in returning to me over being on his own with many dogs barking intensely at him. If I felt that he was very concerned with the presence of the other dogs, I would work at a distance where he felt comfortable. Often, if a dog is driven to retrieve or play ball, I will perform an intense exercise involving either of these motivations while around the stimulus that would be considered distracting. This can, in time, create an association between the presence of other dogs and intense play from the handler, which can be an advantage as well, in any situation.

In the second half of the video, my daughter is working with Badger, trying to undo what I have done since day one (she is trying to teach him to take the ball gently). I encourage her to teach her dog what she wants to teach it. My involvement is not necessary when her goals are clear and she is working toward them. Anyway... while she is working, she is very active, as is her dog (Badger). This provides a good opportunity for me to work with Nick as well. Again, management plays a role. Badger is occupied and is very neutral toward other dogs so that, in the event that Nick is drawn to them, he will be safe and not be entertained by either Badger or his competent junior handler. I do not go to great lengths to bribe Nick to come to me, I simply let him work through the scenario. He is naturally drawn to me anyways, which is evident here. The stimulation is not overly high (only one additional dog) and it is NOT a situation where Badger is running free causing all kinds of chaos.

At this point you may be asking yourself "how does this set of exercises lend itself to improving relationship?". In times of stress or when stimulation is high, it is best that the handler is viewed as being trustworthy and consistent as well as confident. The handler should be the primary focus and the center of the puppy's world and a source of direction when necessary. Because the situation is well managed in the video above, the puppy works successfully through the situation and finds a common interest in retrieving objects for me and being with me. No conflict here and a nice interaction overall. I also enjoy sitting and watching another handler work, regardless of their age. Children who NOT overly influenced by adults and tainted by preconceived ideas can teach you a great deal about going with the flow and establishing a style all their own. My daughter has been influenced by us, but we try to keep out of things where we can, to allow her to develop her own way of training. I initially trained Badger, however, you will notice that the dog is legitimately interested in her and is working WITH her as she tries to teach the dog something new, in this case, trying to teach him to take the ball gently (I have taught him to take it like an alligator. She developed this on her own, and is not simply grinding him through a choreographed routine... this is real handling, real training. It was something for me to watch and learn from and am glad my wife recorded it so I could watch it over and over to catch the subtle handling techniques.

Now, in the video below, you will notice the next phase where I provide slightly more stimulation (perhaps a little too much now that I look back on it). As I mentioned before, many of the exercises that we work on are spontaneous in nature and we work through them. In this clip you will see us taking a walk on the property will all of our dogs loose together. You will notice that Nick is not tethered to me in any way, but I am using food as a reward (first time actually, something I have been meaning to start but just forgot). This was somewhat of a coincidence as I was working with 2 Great Danes earlier on this day and I had my training pouch (full of food) defrosted and ready to go. I clipped it on just before we left on our walk. My intent was to begin to condition Nick to the clicker, to further build communication with him and for him to learn the process of working through a problem by offering behaviour. I run through this with each of the puppies I raise at an early age to help build this area of our relationship. Having a puppy that looks to you, offers behaviour and works to achieve what you are looking for (regardless of whether it is for a treat or toy) can often make it easier to live with and train a puppy. For me, I like to create a more operant dog for future training endeavours. You will notice that what I am rewarding is not entirely specific. Again, I am conditioning him to the clicker while still marking and rewarding some basic form of responding to me. NOTE: This is a two-pronged approach to clicker conditioning that I generally not recommend to new clients as it is a fast-track approach that has its pitfalls. Usually, I prefer to condition the marker first, then begin to use it to mark specific behaviour.

The video above eventually brought us back to where we started our walk and I began to condition a down with Nick, marking when he would flatten out. Simple exercise that is intended to lay the foundation for future training while expanding Nick's repertoire of behaviours that he can perform. The session itself goes well, however, I let it go too long, Nick loses interest and begins attempting to play with the other dogs. Ideally, I would have cut the session short and avoided the part where I felt the need to abruptly end his pursuit of the other dogs and box him back up. I prefer not to end exercises like this, but I am far from perfect and like to push the envelope a bit sometimes.

Below, a video of another spontaneous exercise. While sitting on the kitchen floor, playing with Nick, I thought I should use the time to do something constructive (not doing something constructive had led to Nick tearing at my right arm which left a gaping hole in my sweater). Shaping a "down" behaviour is pretty simple and I was in the perfect position to start it. This exercise is carried out in a very similar manner to what I would have done with the clicker, but using my voice ("yes") to mark the appropriate response. Notice that I allow Nick to venture off and I do not make great attempts to gain his interest by calling him or enticing him. I simply sit and wait. This is where good management plays a role in a training exercise. Had I wanted him to focus on me and me alone, I would have set up the environment so that there was nothing but me, Nick and reward. However, that is not my intent. My intent is for him to explore other options and come back on his own to discover that I am more interesting. I do whistle and call him a few times near the midpoint of the video, but that is about it. The cat is becoming less of a draw as we work around him as well, so that is an improvement. The rest of the video is just interaction, nothing too exciting or overly important. At one point I begin to whip him up and then, at the end of the video, settle him down again. I do teach the pups that I raise to relax on request, something I have only briefly touched on with Nick. This is taught more for future events such as x-rays where the dog needs to settle and be held still. None of the dogs that I have brought in for x-ray have required sedative nor have they shown any aggression toward the techs/veterinarian that have to place them (along with my assistance) to shoot the films.

That is all for now. I have completed a few search exercises in long grass, have had him on more truck rides, and just let him be a puppy by allowing him to have access to the house and outside without much interference on my part. He is growing considerably and is developing an interesting personality, increasing in independence and becoming more coordinated with each passing day.

I may touch on diet and other health and wellness related topics next post if I have time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

POST 6 - Raising the Ideal K9 Partner and the Perfect Companion

Where Are They Now?

In an attempt to avoid going out into the rather mushy weather outside, I thought it might be a good opportunity to discuss where some of the dogs (that did not go into service) are now and what they are up to. This is a sampling of just a few...

Carmspack Badger

You have seen this one during his brief video appearances in this blog. He was intended to go into service however, due to circumstances beyond my control, he now resides with us and will not be leaving. My daughter and I share this dog now, each of us with different training goals. While she runs him in agility, I opt to track with him, do some scent work, some protection work but most of all, just enjoy him being around. His loyalty and trustworthiness rivals that of the Bouvier we lost last year and he fills the gap that was left quite well. He has adjusted to pet life very well. He is the only one of my dogs that I feel truly confident in when it comes to other people being present. Not sharp or blatantly suspicious, however, very aware of what is going on around him. He is different in personality from Nick in many ways, but the core of what he is, the basics are much the same... stability, neutrality, responsiveness and intensity.

Carmspack Fedor

Simon and Carmspack Fedor
Brother to Badger, Fedor possessed the same traits listed above. His owner, Simon Poulin, owner of Sargasso restaurant ( Simon, I believe, is as driven as his dog, always looking for new challenges. He has managed to put titles on Fedor in scent work, has worked him in tracking and the dog has been utilized to successfully track and find two lost dogs after being requested due to the dogs reputation in his area. 

Fedor was raised by me up to the late puppy stage and was intended to go into service. Simon, being a previous owner of a Carmspack dog contacted Carmen with a request for a young dog to which she recommended Fedor. Braving the Canadian winter, Simon made the trip to my home where he was introduced to Fedor, one of 5 dogs I was preparing at the time. A perfect fit.

Simon and Fedor searching during
nose work certification...
...eventually finding the scented article,
a pen in this case 
I am very proud of (but not surprised by) the transition that Fedor has made to being a house pet. His stability is very much as solid as his brother Badger.

Giving a photo op to a complete
stranger does not result in unwarranted
aggression or displays of affection, just
a calm, neutral response as he watches
his master take a picture.

Carmspack Aza

The reality is that not all dogs that are raised for service will develop to fill that role. In some instances, while the instincts are there, the desire to employ them to their fullest are not. As put by a good friend, some do not have "the fire in the belly".  
Carmspack Aza
Aza was just such a pup. He was raised, in part, by me along with his brothers Dunn (who went to a pet home/horse farm) and Silva (certified bomb detection dog). Aza was placed with a client of mine after their original dog was found to be inappropriate during a behavioural consult for aggressive behavior (their 9-month old puppy attacked and wounded my arm through a Carhart work coat and sweatshirt without provocation and with serious intensity). The family made the wise choice to euthanize the dog before it hurt anyone else, a very heartbreaking, upsetting situation to say the least.

Things happen for a reason, and this is no exception. Aza plays a role that is very significant and, although the photos may be somewhat cute in nature, the role as a trusted family member can be a difficult one to fill, especially if a dog does not possess a clear mind. He appears to do it well and without significant issues aside from barking at other dogs and the inability to keep him confined (he can escape almost any enclosure). Overindulged? Maybe (he has his own Facebook page). But his sound, stable nature allows him to take it all in stride. I understand that he is obsessive about fetch which is no surprise.
Aza in his element. Tracking was not his strong suit, but
napping has come naturally. There are roles to be filled
and this is no exception. 
Very content being with the family
Notice the expression while he is being embraced by a
visiting relative? Neutral, relaxed and content

Why Have I Included This Post?

I believe it is important to always provide the complete picture.

The truth of the matter is not every dog that I have raised for service has, or will make it to their original intended goal. Sometimes goals change along the way, whether it be due to the dog itself or external factors out of my control, it's important to be flexible and prepared to change plan if necessary. 

Some might consider this post an admission of failure... I personally do not.

The dogs that I have raised have all filled a purpose. None have ended up in shelters, unwanted or unable to do the job they were assigned to or euthanized due to behavioural issues. All are manageable, confident, enjoyed and respected and provide a benefit to someone's life. Personally, I consider this a success and proof that the preparation process has prepared them well enough that they can fill the role that they are most suitable for... but there is one underlying, common element in this process...

The dogs themselves.

Every dog that I have raised through this program has been reasonable. I have never seen a hint of unwarranted aggression towards myself or any other person. I may not have had the "warm and fuzzy" feeling toward each of the dogs that I have raised, but I have never been concerned with their reactions to stressful situations. For lack of a better word, I think "Trustworthy" is a term that I could use along with "Reliable" to describe what I have experienced. These are two words that I wish I could attach to the majority of GSD's that come to me for private training but unfortunately the words "erratic" and "sharp" come to mind more often.

What's Up Next For Nick?

I have a great, long, video which has some hidden gems for those teaching retrieval. I say hidden because most of what you will see is an exercise in patience and allowing a puppy to fill in the blanks. I am working on editing the video so that it is a bit more condensed and interesting, but still providing the viewer with an understanding of the length of time that was really involved. Related to this video, a modified version of an exercise I use for teaching directed search (which is more of a directed retrieve in this video). It is an example of how I create spontaneous exercises that are tailored to the puppy and the moment.

POST 5 - Raising the Ideal K9 Partner and the Perfect Companion

The Progress Continues, The Documentation... Stalled

My internet has been out for the past 5 or so days so, just when I thought I was ahead on these blog posts I have now fallen behind. Not a big deal, life has gone on without it, now it's just a matter of catching up... on a great deal of stuff.

Raising Nick

Still one of the easiest puppies I have had to raise. I would have assumed that the honeymoon would have been over by now but the pup keeps showing me more of his ability with each passing day. Not huge changes or achievements, but constant development, and small progressions each day lead to big changes in a week. Some of these developments baffle me as I have not experienced a pup quite like this before. His ability to think through issues and figure out what I am looking for is fantastic.

The All-Important Toy Motivation

His ball and toy motivation is developing nicely, but again, not over-the-top. His retrieval is quite impressive, but he is a puppy and it is not perfect. I have recorded some video of a series of exercises where I have created failure in an exercise and made some glaring errors which were, for the most part, on purpose. I created these spur-of-the-moment exercises to push the limits of Nicks capability as well as provide him an opportunity to offer behaviour to solve a problem. I am not one to simply lead a dog through an exercise unless absolutely necessary. I prefer that a dog fill in the blanks for the most part, yet, I try not to create patterns to the point of obsession where it can interfere with other work. I may upload this video and provide a link to it later, but be warned... it is long and dull, but there are many gems in it, showing what patience and being spontaneous with a goal can provide you in training and building a working relationship with a young pup (or any animal for that matter).

A Different Point of View... Literally

Simple problem solving exercises are not always so simple. For example, the next series of photos combined with a short video (sorry, it is poor) show you a very simple exercise in teaching an understanding of objects and how they may interfere in a search.

A dog agility tunnel. From where this photo was taken I
simply lobbed a ball over it. Where it landed on the other
side was visible from where I was standing but...
The blue and yellow thing is what dog agility people refer to as a tunnel, the things on the ends are sand bags which hold the tunnels in place. The exercise itself is simple. I stand on one side of an obstacle and lob an object that the puppy desires over the obstacle while the puppy is watching. Initial reactions to this set the stage for how I go about the next phase of the exercise. you can see by the red line (my line of sight on the
ball) and the green line (puppy's line of sight) there is
a significant difference in what the handler and puppy
see from each of their vantage points.
A. If the puppy realizes that the object has not magically disappeared and makes an attempt to go over the obstacle (which is usually set up to be impassable) I simply stand and watch and wait to see if the puppy sticks to task and, as they begin to realize that they can go to the left or right of the object to get behind it to search, I move with them as support. They are praised and played with when they find the ball.

B. If the puppy appears to completely lose interest, meaning, they appear to be put off by this (perhaps they think the ball has simply disappeared) I will go around myself, pick up the ball quickly and head back to where I started, opting to lob the ball near either end of the obstacle, but still within sight, just to give the pup an opportunity to determine that there is a back side to the object.... okay, enough explanation, we were on plan A, outlined above.

Initially Nick attempted to climb over the tunnel, which was impossible for his size and the tunnels shape so, in frustration, he barked at me and then went to work. He went to the end of the tunnel, went through the tunnel, came back to me, went in again, came back, went to go in the end again and paused, snorted and headed around back where he found the ball. Fantastic!

The following video shows the basic exercise after  his first success. He learns quickly. I apologize for not catching the first pass where he problem solved as it was the most important part. I would also like to apologize for the poor footage that I managed to catch. Interestingly enough, his first success occurred when he went around the left end of the tunnel. In the video, you are seeing his second run at this exercise and, after my toss, he started to go left then paused and decided to investigate the right end of the tunnel as a possible route around the object. Nick is interesting in that, although he can learn pattern, he takes initiative to go outside of pattern to figure things out. The majority of pups would simply stick with what they had success with the last time and not investigate further. This is not a highly technical exercise nor is it meant to be impressive. This is an exercise to observe the puppy as it determines how to problem solve and how he perceives certain situations.

Road Trip(s)!

Nick has been on the road to a number of locations and logged a number of miles over the past week. He has had some in town walking next to traffic, pedestrians, etc., some trips to open areas, watched other dogs playing agility in our back field and been out to a schutzhund club about an hour drive from our home where he participated in some activities relating to retrieval and search. He travels extremely well, quiet, clean and comes out ready to work.

During the trip to the schutzhund club, he had an opportunity to approach a group of people from a distance, take in the smells and sounds of other dogs and investigate the equipment on the field including a frame, a jump, etc. Everything went as expected with the exception of his retrieval which was flawless. Normally Nick will do a few retrieves and then lose interest (or try to entice me to go to him) and simply lie down and gnaw on the retrieval object, but in this instance every retrieve was quick and to hand (I forgot to bring a ball from the car so one of my random work gloves from my pocket was used). In the video link you will see me taking the opportunity to play a bit of tug while people are present, just out of view of the camera. I toss the glove into an equipment bag (full of bite equipment which is heavily slobbered on:). Nick does initially advance to the bag but, unsure, returns to me to check my hands (yes I have done some tricky stuff with him in the past where I have faked a throw and covered the object with my hand on the ground and let him figure it out). Realizing that I did not have the object he returns to the last place he saw the object and begins to locate it with his nose and digs it out. Understand that the equipment in the bag is covered with saliva, some blood for sure and, I would imagine other scents that dogs (under the stress of bite work) have released onto the equipment. I have seen dogs have mixed signals when working under similar conditions, but this puppy was not affected it appears.

We again ventured onto the field where we happened upon a stray plastic water bottle with a torn label.  I took the opportunity to pick up the bottle and toss it, which Nick returned to me with enthusiasm, repeatedly. Being the environmentally-conscious person that I am, we ventured to where the recycling bin was to deposit it. Seeing an opportunity to do a search I restrained Nick physically and tossed the bottle I had in my hand into the recycling bin which was already half-full of the same bottles. I released Nick, allowing him to go up to the bin. Up went his paws onto the side of the bin which, almost immediately, tipped toward him, emptying the contents onto the ground. Nick was quite surprised by this response and backed up eyeing up the small pile and assessing it for safety. He then went back to work, nosing his way through the debris, sniffing and snorting... then a pause... then he picked up the bottle that I had thrown in there and returned it to my hand. This was the same bottle, same ripped label, slight creasing in the plastic, still had his little drool bubbles on it. Awesome. This completely took me by surprise. This was not something I expect out of a puppy of his age. People work long and hard to prepare dogs for the scent discrimination portion of their UD (Utility Dog) program to earn their obedience titles and my pup just did it naturally. I would expect (with a puppy) a great deal of fuddling around with the bottles on the ground, but not a perfect scent discrimination exercise. Unfortunately my wife was not recording at the time but there were a number of people who witnessed this event.

I am still thinking about this today as I type.

Ball Play and Retrieval

Not to get off topic, but I have had a number of questions regarding what I use to "build drive" or as a reward. I mentioned before that I do not use fancy toys and tugs to build toy motivation in my dogs. Being someone who has access to wholesale pricing for these things, you would think that I would take advantage of this. Yes, I do have Kongs and stuff for the dogs, but my favourite item that I like to use with my dogs is something I put together myself... a simple tennis ball on a rope. I am inserting pics of the process of how I make these. I do not buy tennis balls, I simply wait for people to discard their old ones and pick them up. Call me cheap but I find them to be ideal for my purposes... plus they work well with my scent detection system boxes.

1. A simple coat hanger wire has a loop bent in one end (the
other end is sharpened). The end of the rope is placed in
the steel loop and crushed down using pliers to hold
the rope in place.
2. The sharp end of the coat hanger wire is
pushed through the outside of the tennis ball,
through the center of the ball and through
the other side (not through your hand).

4. Once through, pull out enough rope to tie
a large knot to prevent the rope from being
pulled through the ball when tugged by
the dog.
3. Once through the other side a pair of vise
grips is handy to lock on to the sharp end
to assist in pulling the loop (which
holds the rope) through from the inside
of the ball

5. Ball, with knotted rope, ready to be used.
These toys are to be used for interactive
play with the dog and not meant for the
dog to be left alone with (choking hazard).

Nicks motivation for a toy is good. Again, not over the top. Just building up and becoming another way of reinforcing behaviour as well as building another form of interaction that we have with one another. The video below shows a little bit of ball play followed with some retrieval. Simple stuff, just playing with the puppy and enhancing some things that will be useful for later.

Now, For Some Training... Kind of

While out on a walk, it is second nature for myself, actually, for my entire family, to randomly turn situations into an obedience exercise or learning/training opportunity for our dogs. Since starting this blog I have had a difficult time catching these moments on video simply because they are just so common in our day-to-day life that we do not realize what we are even doing. The following video was one of those rare moments that I thought to record. It is a good example of how I create intensity and quick response in the recall. 

Nick is, by nature, a dog that sticks by you, who is naturally obedient but is not afraid of heading off to investigate the world around him while keeping an eye on your location. I have, in this instance, included the rest of my dogs in a walk to the back of our property at dusk (when the coyotes begin to howl). Nick does take some interest in the dogs when the opportunity to chase them presents itself. They try very hard not to interact with him and reinforce his obnoxious puppy behaviour, however, this does not prevent him from trying (I do respect that they are simply tolerating him and handle him accordingly, meaning, I call him away from them or distract him regularly so they are not pressured too much). This presents a perfect opportunity to begin practicing his recall. 

Although I allow Nick to run off and return to me without calling, I want for Nick to be sensitive to when I call, even a little bit anxious as he anticipates me calling him. To do this, I pick moments after he has just left my side to venture off with the other dogs and, just before he passes the threshold where I feel he may have a slower response, I call him. I do this repeatedly, gradually increasing the distance that he is allowed to move away from me. The progression in the recall is quite quick when approached in this manner (progression meaning a quicker response as well as an increased distance away). 

I think it is important to understand that I do not, under normal circumstances, work the recall in the manner which I just described with my clients dogs. Normally, I would (using food or play as a reward) begin with a focus exercise to which we would attach a request and begin to add distance (this is a rough description of the process, I may go back and demonstrate the entire process with Nick or another dog if necessary, later). Unfortunately for those reading this blog, Nick circumvented this whole process by being naturally obedient. All I had to do was simply attach his name to the behaviour of him returning to me from short distances... then longer distances. No restrained recalls, no running away (well, I did a couple of times for fun), no multiple calls or a long line needed to reel him in... he just did it. Sorry, not much I can say other than that. He just does it... which does not make much for an interesting process that I can illustrate with video or still photos. I will, at times, reward him in different ways for performing well, but, for now, he seems to enjoy interaction as a primary reinforcement.

If you watch the first recall versus the second at 0:22 into the video, you see a dramatic difference in response. This could be for 3 reasons, the first being the shorter distance away and the second being that the stimulus (my wife in this case) is less distracting to Nick as compared with running dogs and finally, because at this point he is anticipating my call. Either way, a behaviour that is offered and performed enthusiastically is preferred when an animal is learning. This is what I strive for as an end goal. This is fresh video, taken last night... Nick has grown considerably.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

POST 4 - Raising the Ideal K9 Partner and the Perfect Companion

A Word on Progress, Terminology and the Basis of this Blog

Progress is something that is made over time. How much time is required is not important to me, so long as the potential to achieve goals is there and we work to our full potential to get there. Nick is showing great potential (see discussion on "indicators" below) so, in my mind, it's best to begin to develop this, as it is shown to me, to help it along. I never rush progress, not for myself or anyone else's agenda and definitely not to fill a blog with material.

As I document this, there may be some disagreement with my use of terminology, thus the reason I include video to further illustrate what I am attempting to describe. If there is one thing that I have learned it is that when two trainers discuss something they are often coming to the same conclusion but, due to differences in the terminology that they use or their interpretation of it, they cannot seem to agree. I do my best to describe events and subtle details, but the video will need to fill in the voids. Take observations from the video and apply whichever jargon/terminology that you wish, it is now your experience for you to interpret.

The basis of this blog, from the outset, was primarily to document the raising of a puppy for a career in service but also as a companion/pet (thus the title of this blog). Not all of the dogs that I have raised have gone into service, with some going into companion homes. Therefore, if you follow this blog, be warned that I may "stray" in directions related to either function (service or pet) , but understand that the preparation process is, in my opinion, appropriate for the development of a sound, stable, working partner (service dog) or an ideal companion (pet) as well. 

Finally, this is not a promotional tool for myself or to sell anything, nor is it a warm and fuzzy pet blog about puppies or even a training guide for that matter. This is the account of a process with a specific goal. If it helps anyone through the puppy stage, fantastic. If a prospective buyer in the service field which Nick is intended to be placed should happen to see this blog and inquire, great. 
But, to be completely honest, this blog is primarily for me, to share and document one of the few things I am passionate about and have found to be extremely rewarding, that being working with animals. I am documenting it so that I have something to look back on when the memories fade... when my wife and daughter have to remind me to "Remember the time when..." and we can hopefully look back upon this and take pride in our accomplishments and the fantastic dogs that we had the opportunity to work with. 

Now, with this is cleared up, back to work...

The First On-Line Track for Nick

Nick, in my experience, was indicating to me that he was ready for his first on-line track so I provided a simple area to work in and made the search quite easy (short, straight line).

What indicated to me that Nick was ready? 

Nick has a strong bond with me already, as shown in previous videos, but, more specifically, in the free search video in the last post. Call it "pack drive" or whatever term you wish to attach to it, he has a strong desire to interact with me, to work with me. However, on the flipside of this, he is far from needy. Actually, he is extremely resilient and independent, two aspects of Nick that seem to increase daily. His time alone in the kennel is a calm event from the moment the door closes. During our outings he will, on occasion, run off to the pond to catch a quick dip on his own. However, if during his dip I should walk away and hide, he does not become frantic, he simply begins searching. He is quite driven to find things that escape him. He does not fall to pieces when I leave. 
He is not distracted by people or things in the environment (for the most part) which he has shown me when clients, friends, family and strangers come to visit on a regular basis. He works consistently and does not give up easily. However, being a puppy, the world is still new and there are many things that can create confusion. Knowing this, I keep it simple and only increase the difficulty in increments that I feel the puppy can handle. Nick is a particularly calm worker and, I believe, he can handle the pressure of the exercise that I set up for him, otherwise I would have simply stuck with the free searches and other exercises geared toward his ability. Another item of note... Nick was obnoxious the day the video was recorded, his intensity was through the roof. He exited his crate like a small tornado was nearly impossible to put a line on... this was the final indication to me that the moment was right to do this.

The purpose of this exercise is to provide an opportunity for Nick to experience a scenario where he can use what he has (keen nose, "pack drive" or want to be with me, natural motivation to search). However, during this searching exercise, my goal for Nick is to experience the following:
  1. I want him to explore and experience my disappearance, first-hand, and be drawn toward where I was last seen (pack drive or whatever you wish to call it) to initiate the search with intensity.
  2. I want him to move toward where he last saw me and experience an increase in the amount of scent that is present. 
  3. As much as I do not want him to "fail", I do want him to go off track, to realize that scent dissipates when he moves away from his target. This is why we do not lead or direct the puppy to the hidden person or item but instead allow them to make decisions, observe and experience the difference. In the video you will notice that my daughter does not restrain the dog or direct him. She simply runs along with him, allowing him to lead and work out the problem as he sees fit. 
  4. I want him to experience finding me, engaging me and the excitement that it brings while he takes in the scent around him. I would like this connection to be made as I feel that this end experience is what seals it in the mind of the puppy. Finding something that he is missing, accompanied by scent and the overall excitement of the moment. 
Note: This is a tall order for the majority of puppies (yes, this also includes some of the young puppies that I have raised in past).

  • Unless a puppy goes about this exercise in a somewhat focussed manner, many of the experiences (from 1-4 listed above) may be overlooked by the puppy due to the stress/stimulation involved. In this instance, age and experience may play a role and, in time, they may improve.
  • Some (most) puppies do not "roll up their sleeves, dig in and get down to work", they instead run anxiously until they either find what they are looking for or, worst case scenario, shut down or become distracted with something else to occupy their minds (this last option should be avoided by the handler as it can create a behaviour pattern that is less than ideal... make things easier to start or limit the stimulus in the environment... see point immediately below). 
  • Some puppies need the instant gratification of a simple search where the reward is almost immediate, REPEATEDLY until they can settle in, get past the stimulation brought on by the exercise and take in everything involved (eg. stronger scent = closer to target of search)
  • Other puppies may not develop this at all. It just is not there. They may develop it through superficial means (teaching footstep tracking using food as a motivation as opposed to a person) but the inherent motivation required is not there***
*** I am not knocking the people who teach tracking using food. I know many good tracking dogs that have been prepared for competition using food and I am aware of a number of police service dogs as well as SAR dogs that have utilized food to revitalize the motivation to track (these dogs had the inherent motivation to track, however the handlers made mistakes that caused problems). I prefer not to start a puppy in this way... my personal preference... and one less crutch to remove on the way to my goal. I am not knocking the use of a ball at the end of a track however, the presence of a person is often more stimulating... and is ultimately what will be searched for in the end.

Ok, On With the Track Already!

I have not experienced this level of motivation to search (at this young age) since raising Carmspack Agro in 2007. I will provide the video of Agro as well (below) so that those of you who are reading this blog can see the similarities in the manner that both puppies work.

I gave my daughter the opportunity to handle this puppy, not because I thought it would provide "cute" video, but because she has natural, honest handling ability, something you do not find in adults who have had too much outside influence. She has had her fill of puppies over the years to the point where she is becoming more interested in the process than the puppy itself. We try, where we can, to allow her to develop her own handling skills and it shows. 
In this particular video, Nick is being restrained by a 9' Gripper® Leash that we had made for this purpose. My daughter allows the puppy to explore all areas and does not inhibit his movement, nor does she coach or guide him to my location. She simply keeps pace with him allowing him to search without hitting the end of the tracking line too hard and frustrating/distracting him from his task. You will notice (when my daughter is not blocking the view) that the puppy settles and begins catching scent above the ground and truly concentrates on determining where the scent in emanating from. This is not a random find made by a frantic puppy who has lost his owner, but a focussed effort. He does not become distracted by the presence of my wife (filming), my daughter, the leash nor the group of people taking an agility class in the field beside us (to the left) just out of view. He simply goes about his task and does it well. 

Carmspack Agro (see video below) was very similar in his approach to his first tracks. Agro, however, was particularly cold in comparison with Nick and other puppies I have raised and had less "draw" to me. His desire to partake in the work sessions with me was excellent, he was sound, responsive but just a cooler type.

Ball Play and other Related Activities

Nicks motivation to retrieve, play tug, ball etc. is... good. Nothing over-the-top or lacking, just a good start. I am always a bit leery of puppies that show me over-the-top motivation in this area. I just feel that this is something that should be developed between the handler and dog that will be used as a reward, not just a simple obsession which could create a potential training problem later on when the dog obsesses over the object and not the process to attain the object... hopefully this makes sense. 

Random items are often used for retrieval
exercises. In this case, a quick scan of our
recycling box turned up this can, which
provided a perfect training opportunity.
Aside from ball play, we have performed the odd (random) retrieval exercise, here and there on the property, using a number of items including a ball, kong, stick, gloves, hats, shoes, aluminum soft drink cans, plastic water bottle, a steel ratchet and a number of other items successfully. Items tossed into long grass or rough areas do not present an issue. He is, however, a puppy. He may not always deliver to hand, he may wish to take a detour and lie down to maintain control of the toy, or he may lose interest depending on his motivation level for that particular day.
I do not approach ball play with an immediate goal. I want to build the pup's enthusiasm for a toy, but I do so without great expectations, except that his enthusiasm will increase with time. I realize that, for many agencies looking for service dog prospects, strong ball motivation is important as it is used as a primary reinforcer for many exercises including obedience, search and tracking exercises, so I do make a point of developing this, sometimes too much in my opinion. I do not invest a great deal of money anymore into special toys, tugs, balls or gizmos to build this motivation. A simple Kong or tennis ball on a rope works fine. The type of toy is insignificant for the most part, but the manner in which it is used and managed is key, as well as it's flexibility to be used for varying exercises.

Living With Nick

So far, Nick has been the easiest puppy I have ever had to raise. House training has been a breeze due to his cleanliness and his interest in me. This is not to say that he does not venture off and return to me with socks, shoes, dish towels, items from the recycling bin including plastic and aluminum containers and much more. He does have to be watched to ensure that he does not chew on electrical cords or possibly ingest small items, but this is to be expected. Management is key in this aspect of puppy raising no matter what your final goal is. Besides, how else would I learn anything about him if I simply ignored him and left him to do as he pleased while I sat idle? 

Crate training (as expected) has improved. Nick goes willingly into his crate with little effort on my part. After "loading" him in manually for a week and feeding all meals in the crate, Nick has learned that the crate is a reasonable, rewarding place to be. Simple repetition, not much else, has improved this, paired with the reward of being fed. I prefer to feed the puppies that I raise in the crate for this reason, plus, if given a difficult-to-eat item such as a chicken carcass or nasty, stinky tripe, the area in which they eat is contained, sparing my floors from getting messy. It may also further reinforce that the puppy is to eat only in their crate, something my puppies all seem to do well and refrain from searching for and eating found items on the ground.

Next Post...

More with retrieval and some ball play, taking Nick on the road and what we do on our outings, as well as a follow up on a client who purchased one of the dogs that I raised that was intended to go to a placement in service.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Post 3 - Raising the Ideal K9 Partner and Perfect Companion

Playing Catch-Up, the Last 5 Days With Nick

In this post I will focus on catching up on the last 5+ days or so of living with Carmspack Nick, what I have recognized and, if time permits, how I will work with him based on what I have experienced thus far. I may have to go into more detail for the pet people reading this blog so that they can better understand why I do what I do and the manner in which I do it

I have to say that this has to be the easiest puppy I have worked with yet. He is still clean in his crate, still handler-focussed, still neutral to strangers and, for the most part, quiet but BOLD. He is displaying some key traits that will likely develop into something that is ideal for his intended future career. Not sure what more I could ask for at this point... I can only hope that this does not put off the pet people who are reading this blog and looking for guidance in dealing with a difficult puppy, because he is not a good example of a difficult puppy at all.

Let's get this rolling along so I can get back to Nick. It is pouring rain outside, thunder, lightning so I would like to get back out there before the chaos ends.

Day 1 left me with the impression that Nick was perfect, or close to it. Well, as it turns out, he is a bit ahead of me in training and offering things I did not expect and I misread him a number of times. Remember when I mentioned the key points regarding house training and that, if you have the puppy loose in the house you must watch him 100%?

Well, I broke my own rule... in fact, it was an epic failure on my part. While playing on my iPhone, I attempted to keep an eye on Nick as he wandered about the place, from dining room to living room to breakfast nook (where there are sliding doors which we have exited from once already for a bathroom break). To make this long story short, Nick indicated that he wanted out, which was subtle but, due to my distraction, it was overlooked. In frustration, he bounded away from the door onto the (porcelain tile) floor of the living room where he deposited what remained of his tripe breakfast. No problem, easy to clean up, after I ran Nick to the door and took him outside where he completed his mission and was praised and played with as a reward for a job well done.

NO, YOU DO NOT TAKE THE PUPPY TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME AND RUB THEIR FACE IN IT!!! Just as you would not take the diaper off of an infant and punish them rubbing it in their face and acting aggressively toward them. This instance was completely my fault and, if anyone should learn anything from this, it is me. Nick even indicated to me what was about to go down (literally) and I chose to ignore it. I was over it as quick as it happened. The key to getting over this is to look at the scenario as a "training opportunity missed" as opposed to an act of disobedience or disrespect. Look at what you could change, be it management, or the process related to training and CHANGE IT!!! Don't repeat what is not working, it will not change anything and don't allow your emotions get the best of you. This goes for every aspect of your relationship with your dog.

Nick, and the Big, Wide-Open World

Bringing a puppy to a wide-open space can be somewhat
daunting. This large expanse of grass (sod farm field)
can create a feeling of vulnerability which can be
an unnerving experience, even for myself
Our first off-property venture would be to a fantastic tracking location that I had come across some time ago. It is nicely out of the way, quiet without the threat of too much traffic. Mr. Jon Ryan, good friend, track-layer and (sometimes) decoy would accompany us on our outing. The photos provide somewhat of an idea of how open and uniform this surface was. While Jon laid tracks at the far end of the field for his dogs, while Nick and I ventured into the field. Now, understanding that dogs can sometimes be sensitive to the vulnerability of being in such a wide open space, you would assume that I would walk right out to the middle and essentially flood the puppy with the surroundings. No... not yet, at least not with the limited time we have spent together (although in hind site I believe Nick would not have been affected). We have had only one day together at this point, so I opted to venture approximately 40' into the open area leaving the tree line and roadway at my back and left, to create somewhat of a feeling of containment. Nick was unaffected... like a stone. His interest was directed at the occasional blowing leaf, which he would venture off to look at, but always return to my side... but this is where it gets interesting...

This photo gives you an idea of the openness of this vast sea of
smooth sod. It's a surreal experience to stand or sit out in something so
uniform that stretches so far. Note the  look of calm in Nicks expression.
Nick left my side to interact with a leaf blowing
in the perfect sea of green but returned calmly
once the item was investigated.
During my last post I provided a detailed account of  Nick setting up post at the foot of my chair while I worked at my computer. This, I assumed, was a product of attraction to the cat combined with my presence, but this would prove to be incorrect based on what happened next. 

Upon returning from across the field after laying a track, Jon's form could be made out roughly. As he drew closer to our location, naturally, he appeared to be growing in size as he approached. At about 60 yards away, Nick became aware of this movement and monitored his progress towards us until he was approximately 10-15 yards away, at which time Nick stood, moved forward from our spot, placing himself between both Jon and I (See photo below). At approximately 15-20' away Jon
stopped and stood staring at Nick and I in a relaxed manner. There was only a small pause as he stood assessing Jon and then advanced on him, paying a bit of disrespect (for lack of a better term) by jumping and bopping Jon in the groin area and engaging him briefly then returning to me after. No growling,  shrieking, hackling, barking and carrying on. No more than a small "woof" under his breath when Jon was approaching, never backing up. Perfect. 

I deal with  many adolescent and adult dogs (mostly show line GSD's) that could not handle this situation very well and would require many repetitions of being exposed to this type of scenario to create desensitization... some never will become desensitized. The key words in this concept that needs to be understood are "create desensitization", meaning that the dogs perception would be altered through multiple repetitions or variations of the scenario until they (in this instance) no longer perceive a threat or offer an alternate response. Starting with something that responds naturally in a desirable fashion as Nick did is the best place to start, a great foundation to build on. You would never attempt to build a quality home on a shoddy foundation with the intentions of going back at a later date to try to repair or replace the foundation... that would be twice as much work and the potential for failure is great. Instead, start with something ideal and build on it. So far, Nicks responses are ideal for my purposes.

Jon's return from track laying prompted Nick to advance
towards him.. Jon is just out of the frame about 20-30 yards
away at this point.
 At home, Nick has started to blossom into a much bolder puppy. He is beginning to engage me in play, mouthing/biting/tearing my clothes, playing tug, venturing into new areas and developing some patterns of behaviour that work well for him to deal with the stimulation that day-to-day events bring. He still does not enjoy entering the crate and he has to be loaded in, however, his resistance is lessening and he does not seem affected by it in any way. He has been on multiple truck rides in his crate without sign of stress (drooling, frantic behaviour, etc.). Random retrieval exercises result in him bringing back thrown objects on a fairly consistent basis however I do not put pressure on the situation opting to do random retrieval exercises. I have, on multiple occasions, been walking through our yard with Nick at heel and drop an object (in an obvious manner) where he sees it drop. He falls out of heel to retrieve the object and catch up again the majority of the time, however, at this point in time, if the object is difficult to pick up and carry he may opt to run to the object and run back to me without picking up. This is very good so far.

The Development of Nick's Natural Motivation to Search

Nick has developed a very strong attachment to me in a short period of time. Although it was early, I decided that it was time to manipulate this attachment and use it to motivate Nick to search/track.

Nicks natural inclination is to stay with his handler (me). To see me leave without the ability to follow me should create some anxiety,  especially when I am walking away from him and eventually, out of sight while Nick is being restrained by a complete stranger. This is exactly how our first search exercises are normally carried out. I generally work in long grass or brush for this exercise so that I can remain hidden while Nick is released and he searches for me. The initial searches may only be 10' long, however, we allow the puppy to work through the situation without us interrupting him, and without assistance from anyone. We allow the puppy to work through the scenario and realize that the use of his nose is the quickest way to locate what he wants. There is no food used or other enticements.

Our first searches were completed at the sod farm, specifically in the rough areas that make up the perimeter of the farm. My friend and assistant Jon restrained the puppy and, once I was hidden, released him. The anxiety created by my departure caused Nick to squirm, wiggle and, by time he was released, completely forget where my entry point into the long grass was. He circled around and hunted back and forth until eventually, his nose went up, he snorted and drove forward into the long grass to my exact position. We would play this out again at my home with my daughter as my assistant (see video).

At first, we perform this exercise as a free search, meaning, it is done off lead but eventually we attached a line to a collar and have him track. The video at right is a demonstration of how we do our initial free searches. There are some subtle handling techniques that you will hear me teaching my daughter in this video which help to intensify the puppy for the search. She does it very well for her age. He persistently works until he finds me, which is important. He does not simply "hang out" with the individual who was holding him in hopes that she will point me out, he takes initiative and begins searching. You will notice that he starts off to the right hand side. This is where our first search took place 3 minutes before. Knowing that he had success in this area before, I am not surprised that he would revisit this area. WE DO NOT STEER HIM AT ALL OR DIRECT HIM!!!... this would only make the puppy dependant on the handler for direction during future searches. There will be time for directed searches later.

This is a key component for any search/detection/police service dog, a natural inclination to search, with intensity and endless motivation. Great!

The Time Spent Between Working Sessions

Socks make fantastic retrieval items. Instead
of creating conflict with your puppy by
taking the socks away, grab a second pair
and do a retrieval exercise!
So, aside from all of the accomplishments, what do Nick and I do with the remainder of the time? Well, a good portion of his day is spent kennelled but let out frequently for bathroom breaks, walks, riding in the truck, basic tasks around our property (including exposure to machinery noise from tractors, mowers, weed whippers and chainsaws) and, due to my business being located on my property, I have a number of different clients that I interact with on a daily basis. Nick is exposed to these interactions as well. This provides a great variety of people experience without leaving the property, which is a great place to start with a new puppy. We also have Nick loose with us in the house on occasion. House training is coming along very well after my initial mishap where I lost focus. We did have one unfortunate incident however. My wife was monitoring Nick when he went to the back door and squatted. She went to rush to get him outside and stubbed her toe on one of our breakfast nook stools. What was supposed to be a stubbed toe ended up being a trip to the E.R. to have 4 stitches to close a wound. It appears her baby toe was bent back so far during the "stubbing" that it tore the flesh at the base of the toe... not pleasant. Puppy raising suddenly had an element of danger added.

Just a note to those who are interested. I have added house training to the list of to-do's due to the fact that there are a number of agencies (mostly in the U.S.) where the police K9's live in the home with the K9 officer's family. I feel that this is an important skill to have and makes the dog that much easier to place.

A Word or Two About Socialization

Socialization. I hear a great deal of discussion surrounding this topic where the term itself is tossed about like candy at a Santa Claus parade, but nobody really explains the manner in which this should be carried out in the first place. It's used as an excuse for an animals behaviour (eg. "He acts aggressively towards other dogs because he was not well socialized") or as part of a blanket statement that provides an all-encompassing explanation ("socialization is important for dogs"). Many problems arise due to errors in carrying out this process, but what's the solution to a socialization issue... or, better yet, where is the prevention? Where is the guide to properly socializing your dog? The answer to these questions lies in your final goal. I will provide my goal for you and indicate how I intend to work towards it.

Goal: A service dog is intended to work with a handler, to perform tasks with great motivation and intensity while still keeping its composure. The presence of dogs and other animals should be met with neutrality, acknowledgement is acceptable, but returning to work after acknowledgement is made is what is most desirable. Better yet is a dog that is so obsessed with its work that it is oblivious to the usual distractions. The satisfaction and reward in this dogs life should come from engaging in the work itself, simply because the dog enjoys it so much.

To achieve this, it is important to teach tasks separate from the introduction to new experiences. 

Process: I will teach Nick to search for an object or person (as illustrated in the video above) in an open area, free of other animals or objects. This would be worked at slowly, over time, increasing the difficulty and area that must be searched. Search sessions would be light, fun and random. As Nick begins to show a strong motivation to perform this task, the task becomes increasingly more difficult, but in the same, simple environment.

Aside from the task of searching (completely separate) Nick will be prepared with experiences that dull him to specific stimulus. For example, the presence of other dogs (see video below) is something I would like to "dull" him to right from the start. Eventually, the task of searching would be carried out in varying environments and then, I would introduce the presence of other dogs while searching, bringing together the task and experience. 

To encourage the neutral response to dogs, I utilize mature dogs that I have raised to set the mood for this experience. Initially, the first time that Nick met our personal dogs, he was "on fire", barking at the constant movement of each of them. I would make a point of isolating him when this nonsense would start by stepping quickly away from him the moment it started, leaving him without the comfort of my immediate presence... not desirable from his point of view and a no-conflict way of putting a break in this behaviour. 

Over a short period of time, once over the initial exposure to 3 large dogs, Nick would steal a quick sniff or attempt to make contact with the rear quarters of each dog as it would pass. During this process, I make a solid effort not to stand still for too long. Being the puppies main lifeline, he is quite sensitive to my movements/position and, by making myself somewhat unpredictable by moving, he is preoccupied with focussing on me, taking the focus off of the other dogs that are also moving about. This "buys time" and, during this time, he is exposed to the presence of other dogs in a scenario where nothing negative happens and he has an opportunity to work with me.

I do not encourage the dogs to play together but do not discourage it either. I try to keep the stimulation low so that the adult dogs do not engage each other in games of chase while Nick is present (this is also why, when I raise more than one puppy at a time, I do not give them opportunity to play together, except through the fence between their outdoor runs). This would only drive up the stimulation that could set the puppy off. Instead I reward the mature dogs for focus and response toward me. This often takes the mature dogs focus off of the puppy, allowing the puppy to sneak a quick sniff or two. If the puppy becomes too obnoxious I allow the adults to "school him" with regards to what is appropriate, which often reduces the intensity of the puppy in this situation. On the rare occasion I will interrupt the puppy if I feel he is becoming too obnoxious or intense however I prefer not to be involved to the point where I could create a conflict with the pup.

I hope that the video might illustrate some of these points a bit better, although this is the second interaction so Nick is more familiar with the scenario making my movement less necessary because he has calmed considerably to the presence of the other dogs. At this point I try to keep things light and flowing along. Notice the large shepherd that I am tossing the Kong with? That is Carmspack Badger, our pet. He was initially raised for service but we opted to keep him after the passing of our beloved Bouvier/Rottweiler mix Xena. His neutrality to dogs is unbelievable and perfect for just such an exercise. Those who have interacted with him or whose dogs have interacted with him understand what I am talking about. Cool with strangers, driven, hard as nails... almost perfect, except that he is a bull in a china shop of sorts which the puppy (Nick) learns when he get under foot.

I was, at this point, going to provide (in great detail) why I do not use the dog park to socialize my dogs, however, I will save that for another post.

Aside from the dog experience mentioned above, Nick had an opportunity to attend a function held at our facility. A local training facility (Dogs On Campus, owned by Cindy Boht) held an agility fun match using our fields, for those clients looking to prepare for competition. There were many quick-moving, active dogs at this event, providing a great deal of motion for Nick to take in. A great experience for a young puppy. All dogs were on leash or contained so there was no direct interaction. A perfect opportunity to be around activity but without reactive dogs. Many people were present as well, which made for a more well-rounded experience.

I think that is it for now. Next post covers our first on-line track and a few new experiences.