I volunteer for New Rattitude Rat Terrier Rescue
Helping to find rescued Ratties in need their second chance at life in good fit forever homes.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Continuing Working Off Leash With Tim... A Ripple Effect Part 1

It has been about 4 weeks that we have been working with Tim on his "check-in" and his off leash skills during our walks. I have to say he is doing great! He gets a big paycheck every walk, meaning he is rewarded over and over with treats he really likes so that we can set the behavior in his brain with the intention on our part that this is the behavior we would like him to practice when we go for off leash walks with our pack. If you didn't catch the first blog post when we just started this work, it can be seen here Shaping "Check-In" With Timken Off-Leash.

Dave and I both have treat pouches so we can both work on rewarding together. In the videos you will see Dave rewarding Tim a lot. It seems like with all that rewarding the dogs would gain weight, so I should say that I cut back on their morning meal when I know we are going for a long walk and will be working on positive reinforcement. And the other thing we do is make sure we are only giving a very small tid bit when we are working like this. And we always have extra goodies for a "jack-pot"!

Here is an example of one of the treats we use. We mix it up a lot, sometimes Cloudstar Tricky Trainers Chewy Training Treats, freeze dried liver, Ziwi Peak makes a great treat, string cheese, puffed beef lung (yummy), baked turkey etc... The rewards need to be something really exciting for the dogs when we are working on something like off leash walking where WE really need to be more interesting than all the fascinating smells and sounds around us. Also the treats need to be something your dog can eat quickly rather than a hard biscuit that he has to stop everything to chew up. Some of our dogs would do just about anything for a small piece of kibble (Liza), but we don't want to risk making the paycheck too low for Tim to want to keep his eye on us so we try to always have more interesting treats than kibble.

In this picture each section of treat = 4 treats. So you can see when we cut one of these little buttons in 1/4 (on left), we get 16 rewards from the same 4 buttons. This means we can reinforce a dog 16 times using the same calories as if we only rewarded 4 times if we didn't break them up smaller. It is kind of like how 20) $1.00 bills to a small child seems like so much more than 1) $20.00 bill. To our dog's brains, when we are working on shaping behavior, being rewarded 16 times will get the behavior set in so much better than only rewarding 4 times. Does that make sense?

So now that we have discussed the mechanics of what and why we are rewarding Tim so much when we are working on off leash walking, now it is time for the rest of the story...the ripple effect.

Liza our Min-Pin is rarely in pictures of us walking with the dogs. Not because we didn't bring her with us but because she likes to scout out in front. This has always made mom and dad a bit nervous. She has a wonderful recall, but she also has gotten into Grouse ground nests just off trail and has also killed a tiny baby bird or two which makes us feel awful because we feel we and our dogs are visitors of the nature we find on the trail we don't want our dogs to be pillagers. In the spring much of the time we keep Liza on a retractable leash to prevent baby bird killing while still allowing her some autonomy to sniff and feel free. Since working with Tim on off leash walking we haven't had to do that so much anymore. It seems Liza, who is extremely food motivated, is not scouting much these days, she is staying with the rest of the pack because she really doesn't want to miss any treats that might come her way! Why didn't we think of this a long time ago??? Don't our dogs always teach us something?

When we first got on the trail Tim was very excited and so he was getting a bit too far out of our comfort zone for him. Oh and notice no more long line, we feel he doesn't need that anymore he is really doing well on his check in and his recall.

Dave making sure the gang knows there are going to be treats involved today. Letting everyone know we have something yummy will help keep them focused on us...

Everyone is getting excited to show how they can stay together with mom and dad...

Tim offers a kiss before we take off again...
 Tim back to the behavior we are asking for, now that he remembers he will be getting his paycheck in the form of yummy treats!
We will continue to practice this as long as it takes for Tim's brain to set this behavior and he won't be able to do it any other way. It doesn't matter how long it takes, the only thing that matters is that it is fun for Tim and that he trusts that we are being consistent with him. A win-win is what we are going for.
Here you can see how Liza is hanging out with Tim, she even turns to check in with him. Dave made sure she got her treat even though he missed it the first time. Then Skip and Jenny decided it was time to hit mom up for a treat. They already have the behavior to stay close to me but what the heck? Reinforcing a behavior we want in our dogs is always a great thing to do! So don't be stingy, reinforce your dogs whenever they are doing something you like, it will make them want to do that thing more :)

Skip walks by my side or a little behind me 99% of the time. He, and Birdie and Jenny, have always done this, but he still gets a treat now and then just for being such a good little boy. Stay tuned for part 2!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Timken and The Chuck-It...He Makes Mom and Dad Smile

In a previous post Tim Loves To Fetch His Egg Babies  you got to see how Timken loves to play fetch with his egg babies. But have you ever tried to throw an egg baby??? It is not easy. They are really light weight and don't go too far unless you really get creative with your method. I found that throwing it underhand-backwards got Tim the most bang for his buck, but after a few months of this my shoulder is really sore. A couple of weeks ago in my weekly Yoga class it was all I could do to hold a Downward Dog because I realized I was really in pain. So then I started throwing overhand and front-underhand which just got other parts of my shoulder and arm sore. Dave is in the same boat and as a mechanic he kind of needs to have full use of his shoulders. The thing is we love to play Tim's game of fetch with him and so it goes.

A couple of friends have asked us if we could use a Chuck-It to help with the egg tossing and I explained that Tim was terrified of the Chuck-It and I had to put it away. We used to use it with Skip and his ball, Blue, all the time, but when one of us would pick up the Chuck-It Tim would not want to be anywhere near us.

Welllll..............that was then and this is now! HA! Dave asked me today if we should get the Chuck-It out again and see if Tim would be okay with it now. It has been put away for about 4 months. I was skeptical but our shoulders are getting worse so I agreed we should see if Tim would tolerate it at all. Tim did great! He didn't balk at all! It was as if we had always tossed the egg babies with a big orange Chuck-It. And the great thing is we can really get the eggs to soar across the yard and Tim can get more exercise and really open up his running stride. Pretty awesome isn't it?

I had the camera ready. Tim is looking at the Chuck-It with interest and not moving away from it.

Hey dad why don't you stop holding my baby and toss that thing?

A little Timken lean but he is still curious.

Looking pretty comfortable with his baby on a long orange thing.

The baby did get tossed and here is Tim, he brought it right back to go again.

He is mesmerized by this orange arm holding his baby.

What a cute boy!
Skip was excited to see the Chuck-It again and has decided that fetching Egg Babies is pretty dang fun.

And here is Tim, now he gets to chase his baby all the way across the yard. Yay!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Timken Learns "Catch" a Timken Pupdate

Tim has really been getting athletic with his Egg Babies, soft toys, and also food treats. I discovered he had graduated from just fetching to being okay with catching things that were falling down from above. Not that long ago this would have been a bit scary for him and in the first few months he was with us, this would have completely undone him, even our arms moving to throw something was scary.

But as he is allowed to go at his own pace he continues to blossom and although this probably doesn't seem like that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, I can assure you for us and Tim this is huge progress. Our arms and shoulders are tired from throwing the egg baby so many times as he wants to play this new game from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed. lol. As long as we are sitting in the yard or in the living room he will quietly bring us an egg baby and put it at our feet or very nearby and wait patiently for us to throw it for him to fetch or say the new magic word "catch" and he will sit on his haunches and prepare to grab it from the air. He can get pretty acrobatic with this and I got some if it on video and photos, lots of video and photos but I tried to pare it down for the blog post!

When we say "catch" Tim will sit and wait eagerly for us to throw it up in the air for him.

Tim has a very keen way of focusing on the ball when he is in "catch" mode. Here you can see his concentration.

After many attempts and successes at catch with lots of fetch thrown in for good measure, Tim finally tires himself out...for a while, ha ha.
  I recorded quite a few "catches", like 25 of them which is just a small portion of the actual amount he will do in a session! He could do this for hours. But when it is time for mom or dad to stop he is very sweet and just goes to lie down

This was the next day, he was at it again :)

I love how Skip photo bombed most of these pictures :)

Skip, in back, was rolling on his ball.

It is very emotional to think of how awkward Tim was when he first came into our care. He was not even able to run, had no muscle mass, in fact he even had a hard time walking, his back legs seemed to bow out and he was not in tune with his body at all. But look at our boy now!

Stay tuned as Tim---along with his furbro Skip---have something very awesome to share with you. They have started a whole new en devour and have brought mom and dad along for the ride.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Who is Wesley?

Today we had the pleasure of a doggie visitor named Wesley, aka Wes. Wes is an adorable Poo-Chon, (Poodle Bichon mix) and it was very clear that he was NOT a terrier. lol Wes came with his dad who is our Uncle. Wes goes to the dog park two times a day every day and he has fantastic dog skills. He just fit right in with our motley crew and was a complete gentleman.

Uncle Ward has treats! l-r Jenny, Birdie, Liza, Wes on couch :) He knows the place to be...away from three rattie girls...

Timken gets in on the act. He took treats from Uncle Ward, got pets from him, and even tried to play with Wes at one point. Uncle Ward is a dog person so all the dogs know they can trust him.
Birdie had some sun bathing to tend too.
Tim made sure we all saw what a good egg baby fetcher he is...Skip basked in the sun with Blue
Wes had a blast going in and out of the house and checking everything out. He didn't even bark when all the bRats found things to bark at.....he is such a good boy! And super adorable too!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Shaping "Check-In" With Timken Off-Leash

As foster parents for New Rattitude we sign a Foster Parent Agreement every time we get a new foster dog. One of the rules of the agreement is that foster dogs will be kept leashed at all times when out of a secure area. So we always had Tim on leash when he was our foster dog.

The truth is letting dogs go off leash in unsecured areas can have it's pitfalls if not managed in a very conscientious way. And some dogs, especially terriers with a prey drive, should never be allowed to be off leash.

Timken has gone walking with us on leash on these trails for almost 9 months (before we adopted him) so he knows this area very well. Once we adopted Tim Dave and I discussed at length what our comfort zone was to allow him some off leash time with the other dogs. We both knew he would not run off merely to be away from us because he is very bonded to us, BUT we also had no idea if the freedom of not being leashed to us would get the better of him and if he would actually stay close to us or if his curiosity and new found freedom would get him into trouble. My motherly instincts were on high alert and I agreed I felt he could handle the freedom but I wanted to make sure we worked on his recall again and again while we walked along and also to shape a "check-in" response whenever he got up in front rather than just heading out and never looking back until he was too far for our comfort zone. Tim dragging the leash behind him was my request. Tim does not always like to be touched or picked up and in an emergency I wanted to make sure I could at least step on his leash to stop him if he got spooked and bolted. Of course I would have to catch him first but I just felt the leash was some added insurance.

This training work has changed our walks a great deal. Normally Dave and I have long conversations and try to figure out the meaning of life and such when we are walking with the dogs, lol. But now our focus is on Tim, making sure we have enough treats with us, making sure we are catching every turn of his head toward us, and constantly scanning and focusing on where he is at all times and what is in the environment ahead and around us.

We have done about 5 off leash walks with Tim now and these pictures are from the second walk. He is doing great and hopefully these pics will give you an idea of the way we are working to shape Tim's check-in.

Tim walking ahead of us off leash...

He stops...

turns toward us and gets his "click" which we are using the word "yes"...

Tim runs back to us and gets his treat reward. We are using high value treats as we really need him to be motivated to check in with us over being too interested in the environment where he could get too far ahead...

Tim also gets rewarded for following...in fact we reward very heavily for this behavior when he is on our heels, either with an even higher value treat or with treating more frequently when he is in this position. Skip (blue harness) and Jenny (forefront) always stay on our heels, rarely do they go up front. Liza (up front) is leashed to prevent her from going too far in front as she really likes to scout and in turn Tim will follow after her and we are trying to teach him to not go too far up front for now. Although as we work with Tim and the other dogs get in on the act, even Liza is tending to stay closer to us now as not to miss out on those yummy treats and that is a win-win!

This is another version, Tim back up in front...

he stops and turns toward us, one of us says "yes"...
he waits for us to get up to him with the treat.... This is fine with us as well, he can choose to come back to us for the treat or wait for us to catch up to him to get his treat, either way he is only going so far then "checking-in" with us before going on ahead again. We are hoping this will help Tim build some confidence by having some autonomy from us while also exibiting some impulse control at the same time.

 When we are walking we are doing this the entire time! We figure we are getting 50-100 chances per walk to get this behavior shaped depending on the length of our walk. Our treats are broken into the tiniest of pieces so we don't run out and so the dogs don't get too many calories. We also stop along the way and practice recall where Tim runs to me then gets a treat, then Dave calls him and he runs to Dave and gets a treat. All the dogs love this game! We are working on recalls with the whole pack. Even Jenny who doesn't hear anymore likes to run between us with the other dogs to get her treat :)

Tim is really doing well with this and I will get some video of where we are now so you can see him in action. I'm still not ready for him to not drag a leash behind him. I have heard it is best to do these recall and check in games throughout the life of your dog, so that is what we plan to do. Those long talks about the meaning of life will have to take place in the car to and from the trail. But it's all worth it to make sure we are training Tim to look to us when off leash.

Tim looking very alert and confident!

Friday, July 4, 2014

It's July 4th and Timken Makes a Wish!

Today is Timken's real birthday! He is 2 years old, has recently been adopted into his forever home by his foster parents (that would be us!), and he is a most beloved member of a real family who adore him. What more could he wish for?

Hot dogs? Watermelon? Ice cream? He does love all these things. Maybe what he is wishing for is that all the other dogs who are in need of homes will find their forever home too....Timken that is a good thing to wish for!

Happy Birthday to Tim! 
and many moooooorrrreeeeee...