Monday, July 25, 2011

By George... I think the girl has GOT it!

Well... that may be a tad (okay, a lot) premature BUT having been working on Hopie's dry skills I have to say we've already seen some very HAPPY results which is awesome.

The first task we focused on was one of our biggest - the stock stick, which had gotten to a point where she saw it and was already anticipating pressure before we even got to the paddock.  She's not bothered by sticks or stick like objects in general or in other contexts - so I could use literally the same one as a target wand, run it all over her body,as a prop for freestyle, for fetch etc. so it was purely the fact it'd come to represent an (albeit usually considered mild) aversive.  That's been the biggest turn around as well - madam is a wiggling, waggling ball of happy eager dog she usually is and moves off it without issue.  Hopefully this will transfer over nicely to non-bucket flocks once we've got latency and distance more where I want them.  (Yes, I'm going to proof this to death before reintroducing it and pondering on how to structure the reintroductions so that I can maintain nice fine slices of single behaviours. LOL)

The next we worked on was a basic cast out.  She already knows that - well in so far as we'd worked her before and she knew 'get around' meant get your bum out around the sheep and start fetching even if it was too fast, too close in to them etc. so not really what I want as my ideal cast!  I started with a basic one anyway to get it firmly on cue and in relation to our flock-o-buckets before I started tinkering with increasing the width she was running out relative to the 'flock', the spaced-ness of her flock and then combining that with my distance from the "flock".

So it went:
  • flock close together, me close to flock, cast out and going within .5m foot of the flock
  • flock close together, me standing .5m away from flock, cast out and going within .5m foot of the flock
  • flock close together, me standing 1m away from flock, cast out and going within .5m foot of the flock
  • flock close together, me standing 2m away from flock, cast out and going within .5m foot of the flock
    And so on to get me standing back further from the flock.  Then we spread the flock:
  • flock spread .25m apart from each other, me standing .5m away from flock, cast out and going within .5m foot of the flock
  • flock spread .5m apart from each other
  • flock spread 1 m apart from each other
  • flock (which had a population explosion at this point *G* and gained a few dozen members) spread .5 apart from each other, me standing .5m away from flock, cast out and going within .5m of the flock and so on so she had to go around a 'big', semi 'loosely grouped' flock
    Then those sheep started being further away from me.  They went back to being fewer (about half the flock took a tropical vacation...) and closer (it's cold out) but instead of being 1-2 m away, they were 3-4m away and then began drifting apart again.  At this point, now we're working on getting her further back from the flock.
  • flock spread .5 m apart from each other, me standing back 1-2m, her going around within .5m of their 'bums' 
  • flock spread .5 m apart from each other, me standing back 1-2m, her going around within .75m of their 'bums' 
  • flock spread .5 m apart from each other, me standing back 1-2m, her going around within 1 m of their 'bums' and so on... 1.5m, 2m, 2.5m, 3m etc  Then they started spreading apart again... so the flock was 1m apart from each other, me back 1-2m, her having to work progressively wider around their bums.  Basically I want her to be comfortable doing what is asked regardless of how far I am from her, how far back from the sheep she is working, how far back the total space from me to the sheep and the sheep to her is or how wide spread they are that means she has to arch out wider to maintain the wider 'space bubble' around the sheepies.
We've got it firmly from the left going clockwise but not so much from the right going counterclockwise.  That'll be our next task.  I also want to be able to have her keep going (if cued) fully around as she's wanting to come to balance and stop, hesitating if I cue her to keep going and I suspect there will be times being able to push her off/past balance will be very useful to be very comfortable with.

We've also got 'back' down pretty well - very confident on her part, complete with occasional hind foot kicking chutzpa.  LOL

We've got 'look away' and 'look bye' (turn your head and shoulders out in the direction, to widen the angle of her path when she's cued to move) pretty well too. Bye is not as solid as away and she'll sometimes offer away still so we need to go pick it apart a bit.  Probably (maybe?) to do with handedness as well?  That does link with walk-on and we've just started chaining look away + walk and she's got walk-in (straight in) pretty well.

With regard to walk in, I'm pondering teaching it from her being oriented to different directions - ie 2 o'clock, 4, 6, 8, 10 etc. on a radial but debating where exactly I want to consider the 'target spot'.  We've enough on our plate it can wait but I'm pondering away anyhow.

It's a fun experiment for us anyhow and hopefully getting us closer to where we need to be.  It's also a fair bit of thinking of how to restructure things and getting some much clearer/more precise definitions of exactly what I want for the ideal/perfect/finished behaviours in each case.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Warning to dog owners - deadly Sisotamoxym virus


Due to the massive problem with foxes, the Australian Government has begun to introduce several potent strains of a virus called Sisotamoxym in an effort to control this pest species.  However it is not species specific and our pet dogs are at severe risk.  The death rate in domestic dogs is 100%.

New strains being manufactured for release routinely.  The vector is via biting insects who are bred and deliberately released at various locations around the country to spread the virus. IE mosquitoes and fleas.  In order to ensure the virus is spread as far and wide as possible the government has imported and released two types of fleas - the European and Spanish flea - as additional vectors to penetrate areas where lack of permanent water prevents mosquitoes from breeding.  All species of mosquito can transmit the disease and some can infect up to 10 animals an evening and remain infective for up to 7 months.   

The mosquitoes and fleas transfer the virus when they bite an affected animal and along with blood ingest bacteria.  The bacteria multiplies in the insects gut and when it bites another animal bacteria is introduced to the wound. Incubation period varies but averages 5-14 days. Once the dog is infected it's skin becomes red and thickens before traveling to lymph nodes and then organs.  It is present in the skin and bodily secretions making it contagious.  After 6 days the body has become swollen, with the swellings becoming distended and thickened.  Pus may discharge from the ears and eyelids, which become thick and swollen as well to the point they're swollen shut and the dog is blind and deaf.  The virus form tumors and skin lesions throughout the body.  The entire head swells and in in-tact males the testicles swell and the scrotum ruptures.  By this point the dog is anorexic, has difficulty breathing and convulses.  If not euthanized, death occurs within 12 days or so.  While for foxes this raises a significant issue of humaneness, dog owners need to be alert and aware to the symptoms to prevent an agonizing death.

Once infected, there are no treatments. Death rate is 100% and the current veterinary recommendation is for immediate euthanasia and quarantine of house-mates who may be infected.

The only current option available to dog owners is to keep dogs inside at all times and use mosquito proofing techniques to attempt to prevent infection.  If the dog must be outdoors, it is recommended you fully mosquito proof the enclosure and take measures to prevent fleas or mosquitoes from being near.  However it only takes one mosquito coming in and having one bite of one dog to kill them all.

There is a vaccination called Nobivac Siso.  It utilizes a virus called Shope Fibroma virus which is closely related but which doesn't cause the disease. However the Australian authorities are not at this time allowing the vaccine for fear immunity could transfer from vaccinated pet dogs to wild foxes.

This reasoning is faulty and does not hold with experience in areas where the vaccination is legal.  Foxes have built their own immunity independently according to the Australian Department of Primary Industries own publications. There is also a lack of immunity in a vaccinated individual can spread let alone to foxes. In UK and Europe, where the vaccine is available, there have been no signs of a decline in the disease and there is still a great need to vaccinate pets. The British distributors (Intervet) state that:
"...the virus (Shope fibroma) does not spread readily from one animal to another and all dogs in a group should be individually vaccinated"
Now... if you are all feeling properly horrified by the thought of your beloved pet dogs dying a horrible death, take a deep breath.  There is no virus called Sisotamoxym.  

The REAL virus is called Myxomatosis and instead of being released to control foxes it is released to control wild rabbits.  Instead of affecting your pet dogs, it affects our pet rabbits.  The only difference is that the word "rabbit" has been replaced with "dog", a pet most of you will have experienced a strong bond with - the medical information is accurate.  I wrote this to hopefully provoke thought as a house-rabbit is NO DIFFERENT than a dog in terms of it's intelligence, ability to love and be loved or bond when raised with the love and care we raise our dogs with and lives as a part of the family.  We are no less devastated by their loss than a dog owner would be.  Yet the Australian Government continues to deny, on the most dubious and shoddy of reasoning, access to lifesaving vaccination.  If you are outraged by this please sign the petition for the the vaccine to be made available:

Or write the following people: Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage and Shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage
along with your local representatives.

Because whatever our pets species, we love them, we suffer when we loose them and we don't deserve to have to stand by and watch them suffer horribly because of governmental apathy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We've been saying Kiah is a lot like my old fellow Cade, who is now at the Bridge.  She's been growing leaps and bounds, so I decided to hunt up the collar I made him when he was a youngster.  It's double sided velvet hand embroidered in a celtic knotwork pattern and looks rather lovely on her if I do say so myself.

Meanwhile my stomach issues are flaring back up again, so I had a little extra snooze this morning so I could lay straight on the heat.  Nic went to let the girls out, without realizing Miss Kiah Papaya needs to be escorted straight to the door if it's not me letting her out because she's a big mumma's girl.  I soon found myself with an armful of wriggly, deliriously happy puppy moaning and groaning her bliss and attempting to clean every centimeter of my face (she's not usually a licky puppy so this is about the only time I get ecstatic kissy fest from her) before settling in to enjoy the heat pad too.  Such a little smile bringer she is. :)

It's also time for the little lovebirds, Romeo oh! Romeo and Cinnamon the Cinnabun to go get their vaxes.  Unfortunately the Australian government is STILL with-holding the myxo vax from pet bunny owners for no sound reason (yay for logical reasoning and evidence based decisions... oh, wait, no that would be prejudice, ignoring evidence and just not giving a rip!) but we can vax them against calicivirus which is just as important.  So we're off to visit the Melbourne Rabbit Clinic later today.
 Romeo would be giving me this face again if he knew what I had planned...

And one of Nilla, just being full of 'satiable curiosity for cuteness sake.  Excuse the craptastic lighting in all of them.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

combo plater pics

Rinlicious... proof that while all of us are special, some of us are moreso than others!

But my mumma loves me!
And the older goober heads have a run around Shipwreck Rock...


It's distraction proofing AND reality tv for cows!

No, we're not doing herding - we're proofing down and sit-stays with maintaining attention and focus while mum is at a distance (pics taken with 30x zoom) for several minutes and the cows just happen to decide to assist with distraction proofing.
 "I know it's there and I'm ignoring it, I'm not falling for that old distraction and loosing my click!"
(Okay mostly... covert glance!)  Meanwhile apparently watching us train is the cow equivalent of Big Brother and really, reeeeeally fascinating because they all come over and right up to snuffle.
"Mum - that reward better be bloody good!  I'm ignoring it and I'm staying put but I'm getting COW SNOT on my BUM FLUFF!  Cow. Snot. On. My. Bum. Fluff!"

Later on, while we were doing some of our herding dry work I didn't realize the curious cows had come over.  Being hard of hearing and it being somewhat windy I had no idea there was a small group right behind me.  Hope did and at one point when I went to send her around instead of going where I sent her, she went around behind me.  I whirled around wondering if she hadn't lost her marbles only to see the cows fetching at me. Hope was very chuffed with herself after weeks of working dry only to FINALLY some real work!  Little monster!

the squidgey edition

Soo.... Demonspawn Anklebiter McNoseyboots is growing up... from a dainty 2kg when she first arrived the little madam is now double and a bit that size.  She has been keeping up with her 10 new people, 1 new place, 3 new things a day for the most part aside from when I've been too ill. She goes with us to club and thinks the place was designed for her admirers to gather.  The vets and all around town and bush walking are other favs.  We're working on most of the same things we established as a little tyke, keeping their practice up and waiting till she's a bit bigger to push out duration further in most cases.  She has fun playing with the flyball box, playing stalky Kelpie dog (in her mind she is a rough, tough cowdog) and generally being a little ball of energy.  She is learning calm, control and her on-and-off switch - even when you are watching the other big dogs play flyball and run in agility and your mum won't let you.  (Life is DREADFULLY unfair - we are SURE we could do it even better if only we were allowed!) 
"Yep, with these ears I almost CAN take flight!"
Proving undoubtedly that she is one of MY dogs - and therefore both weird and ruled entirely by her gut - at her vet visit when she got her vax she never paused in chewing her treats.  When she got the thermometer (and no, vets aren't progressive enough to use those nifty little ear thermometers kids get - this is the old fashioned thermometer up the bum) it merited barely even a glance.
"That's right dear, just pay attention to the nice yummy bribe... pay no attention to the man who is about to do... yes, that... here have some peanut butter."
When it came to the microchip needle however, which is fairly BIG as needles go, she alternated between yelping and chewing in a sort of oddly crunchy yodel. *yel...crunch...elp...crunch...YE...crunch...LP..gobble*  Now that is impressive dedication to your grub!

All that didn't really slow her down much however. Or, y'know... at all.
She's still her nutty self.  The only that that continues to surprise is what a comfort hound she is.  Honestly I'm pretty sure she is an Italian Greyhound in a Kelpie/Border jacket.  She loves the heat blanket, she burrows under doonas like a seasoned pro, she shivers most pathetically if required to go outside sans a coat and is generally just a bit whussy about the weather.

And I am still loving having a dog I can put a pretty collar on and SEE it!  LOL  (Please note: Rin is actually wearing a pretty collar -just even with her minimal coat you can't see it!)

Surprisingly, among the dogs it's not just Rin who is finding having a puppy a great blast of fresh air - Sierra has taken on the role of patient teacher and is Kiah's most sought out (and endlessly pestered) friend.  They have endless play sessions and mock-battles teaching her to recognize and listen to her native (body) language, rehearsing recognition and responses for HOURS every day. They practice and rehearse apologizing and making amends, taking turns negotiating resolving issues and defusing situations, approaching, inviting games, making requests etc. It is beautiful to watch how elegant and deliberate they are and how they teach and learn! I am reminded of watching a Cade and Bella teaching a baby Sierra many years ago and later all of them teaching a cheeky and irrepressible baby Hopie. 
When a response is correct Sierra will bow and invite a game, wrestle or settle in for an ear grooming session (a legacy from Bella I suspect, who was obsessed with ensuring puppies had clean ears) or such before setting back up and inviting another rehearsal. Hope and Rin get in on the act as well, both particularly love to teach play skills - how to respectfully approach an adult to ask for some of their chewie or to play with the toys they have, how to take turns in playing chasing and wrestling games.  They will take the toy and dangle it clearly in front of her to entice, prancing and showing it off before taking off at a slow run for her to chase and guide her into being both the chaser and chased, signaling that it's just play or practicing calming down skills.  Hope will bring a chew right to her and of her to practice polite approaches and requesting skills.  When she gets it right they pointedly and deliberately give her what she's requested, walking away, "I'm done, all yours!" After a few moments they'll inviting her to come away - occasionally having to show another toy to get her to drop the first, pick it up and inviting another round.  Bless her, she is such a fantastic little member of our family I don't think we could have picked better!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hope's sheepdog-type plan rough draft thingiemawhotchie

So... best intentions aside I haven't blogged for weeks. 

However lots has been going on.  With Hopie we'd trying to figure out how to train herding using R+ based training wherever possible and to teach her to become more comfortable with human applied pressure for pressure and release.  I felt like her instincts were keen and she loves the actual work but the only real sticking point was in her not faring well with even very, very, very minor aversively taught approaches.  I had some basic ideas but fleshed it out with a discussion from some lovely folks and (hopefully!) between it we've got a good plan going.

So here is the attempt to write out the plan (something I've been remiss on...) for her and some of what we've been working on.  Worst case, it doesn't improve things but we're no worse off and best case it may work super for us. (Certainly hope so!)  Either way for a dog for whom the tools 'inside the box' aren't bringing out her best game, 'outside the box' however oddly nontraditional it appears has little to loose.

So the areas of trouble for her mainly include:

Behaviours not fluent before being asked for at working level
Dry training had been in the plans for awhile and after talking to some people who have taught working/trial dogs with R+ I came away even more certain. I decided to start dry until many behaviours are fully/very very highly fluent so I can focus just on the dog, without also having to contend with a number of other independent minds who are not stationary and more difficult to reset for multiple finely sliced reps of the same behaviour. The dry-work has the benefit of being able to practice single behaviours in well split easily achievable criteria in a controlled setting which allows the behaviour to become solid, low latency and have significant duration, distance and distraction proofing added to it rather than try to attain those on the fly with the sheep and concurrent with everything else.  Likewise you don't have to rely on other half-trained behaviours at the same time. ;)

Some of this is not new or exclusive as certainly there are a fair few well known working dog trainers who teach a down/stop/come/flanking dry. I'm also wanting to teach to higher standards:
* come in (pretty self explanatory)
* back (move directly outward from the sheep 'target'- not sure if I want this to simply be stepping back or actually turning around or if it even matters... pondering atm!)
* directional modifier cues (not flanking commands - turning out the whole head/shoulder orientation to widen the future trajectory)
* walk  - meaning along whatever path your head/shoulders are currently facing until told to do something else. I'm thinking that this can get paired with directionals - walk on, walk up, walk by, walk away) for when I specifically want her to do the movement at a slower than normal pace.
* outruns
* angles to come around sheep on - has previously been something of an issue
* and while not intended to be taught on cue per se but shaping angles for casting out on stationary objects at increasing widths and distances, proper shaped flanking

And maybe other stuff as I think of it or when I trip across the need for them in levels beyond started.  She does know many of the cues in the obedience/general context very well but the plan is to practice even those in a herding context and at distances to help them become more as high quality/lickitysplit/'no matter what' as they are in other areas.

One of the things we were seeing consistently was that she while she was okay giving the sheep some distance she wanted to work relatively close to me and became uncertain if the sheep's distance meant she was asked to work further distances relative to me.  Doubly if she was at all uncertain.  As well as making it difficult to teach/refine behaviours, it also meant she tended to quarter in and bring the sheep up too close to me for comfortable movement to stay within that relative distance and may also affect lining up for obstacles. 

While I've varied my rewards quite a bit - food, toys, games, planted environmental rewards, opportunities to access things - it seems I've unintentionally trained her that there is a 20-ish meter zone that she is to work in and expect reward delivery within relative to me.  (Since so far nothing we've trained or done has really required a functional/reliable working distance beyond that beyond a recall.)  Because of that and how sensitive she is, working outside that distance especially where the behaviours are not trained to fluency is worrisome.  While for most dogs this may not be significant, for her it's a problem.  While not directly applicable to herding general distance work may extended her safe/familiar/rewarding/comfort zone so that if there IS a stressor added it's not on top of uncertainty due to distance.   Likewise generic (non herding specific) distance (remote?) reward delivery to ensure she is aware that rewards can be delivered at that distance regardless of relation to me.

Hope is incredibly sensitive to social approval and her perceiving it to be withdrawn makes her anxious.  She is surprisingly confident with external pressure (ie that applied by the sheep and cattle in general or individuals in specific) which speaks to it not being pressure in general she is over sensitive to.  Because of this, I do not believe (natural) pressure itself is the only issue, the timing of the pressure or the degree of it but rather the combination of the behaviours not being fully trained ones and the pressure (coming from human/stock stick) being taught as an aversive to 'correct' her into guessing right to get the release.

The direct seeking-in I think is more of an appeasement behaviour over not knowing what is wanted, anxiety re: distance and anxiety re: aversive pressure and an attempt to use a fall back with a high history of being 'right' everywhere else in life.  Actions like shooing her out, withdraw eye contact or continuing to request a yield (continued pressure) becomes perceived as failing to be able to appease. The more appeasement is withheld the harder the dog tries to appease and the higher the stress raises, until shut down will be the inevitably hit when NOTHING is going to be able to make things right.

Yielding - Central to the pressure issues imo is that at the moment the yield with a stock stick is taught with P&R being taught as a mild aversive.  For most dogs combined with the heavy draw of the sheep it is mild enough that especially with precise timing in the application, the yield gaining removal and the amount of pressure being applied on an 'as mild as possible' basis for the individual and ideally passively (ie the pressure is held at the lowest possible useful level, so the dog can't gain access but is simply waited out vs successively applied increases of pressure) the dog works through any stress.
    For some dogs like Hope, even mildest aversives are enough to be significantly off putting but there is no reason the action (yielding) or reacting to pressure must be taught with an aversive.  That was the 'reframing' context I was dithering on!!!  The same action (move off/yield to either SS pressure or body signal pressure) can be taught in a slightly different manner utilizing R+ to shape the yield and then delivering the reward at or just beyond the peripheral zone.  (ie delivery in place or tossing behind/on the outward trajectory the dog may be asked to move next).  The result should be a dog who is comfortable with the pressure being applied as positive information - which was pointed out to me (I'd not realized, not being that far along) may be very useful in more advanced classes where you are sorting/shedding or instances where you want to have the dog come into the pressure you're putting on the stock.  I likes!

So that's where we are now, working on the dry stuff and then going to start scouting around for a few new sheep who are veerrryyy docile and like to stay together quietly and some quackers now that we can. :)