Monday, January 25, 2010

Training Plan!

One thing this weekend really drove home to me is that I've been incredibly complacent in our training. Oh, sure, I train a lot, but I suck at raising criteria. This is kind of silly, because I understand ways to do this: click only better efforts, ask for more duration before clicking, etc. And yet...

So, I've devised a new training plan for the next two weeks. I chose two weeks as my timeline for two reasons. First, we have a trial in two weeks, so I'd like to see some improvements before then! And second, because it seems like a nice amount of time to reassess our progress.

In addition to devising a training plan, I've also developed a method to track our success, so that at the end of our two weeks, I can see exactly how much progress we've made. (This also appeals to my geeky graph-making side.)

I'm going to work on four main behaviors. I will work on them in two minute increments (I have a timer and everything, and let me tell you, two minutes is a LONG time), once or twice a day. The behaviors are:

1. Sitting in heel position ("get-ins"). The criteria for a click is that she is sitting STRAIGHT. In the future, I'll work on straight AND the correct position, and then add in closeness. For now, though, she just has to be straight. I chose this as the criteria because she often wraps around me or sits crooked. The way I'm going to train this is to do 90 degree pivots (then 180, then 270, then 360) in both directions (working on one direction at a time, and eventually including finishes), clicking only for straight sits.

2. Heeling with eye contact. I'm going to use the 300 peck heeling method. I do not require strict eye contact for heeling in general, however, I am going to require eye contact for the first 5-10 feet because I often lose her at the first step.

3. Straight fronts. The criteria is that she must be sitting straight. Okay, there's a second one: she must be sitting straight, and somewhere between my two feet. Closeness and centeredness doesn't matter; as long as she's sitting straight, she'll get the click. I'll reset the exercise by pivoting 90 degrees (and then 180, etc.) to the right (and later the left).

4. Duration heeling. My house is laid out such that I can make a giant circle through five different rooms, for a total of about 40-50 feet. The criteria here is that she stays roughly in heel position (position and closeness don't matter much as long as she's roughly at my left side) and paying attention. I won't require eye contact, but I will require signs of attention- ear set, head position, etc. It's hard to describe, but I know it when I see it.

I'd also really like to work on fast pace heeling as well, but I have no idea how to teach it. Ideas? I've tried throwing toys and treats ahead of us, and she's terrified of a target stick... I'm not sure what else to do, other than just click and treat when she changes speed with me. And... maybe that's enough? Thoughts?

After we've done our training session(s) for the day, I'll wait at least 30 minutes, and then do a test so that I get some data. For the fronts and get-ins, I'll do ten trials and count the number of clicks she gets. I'll increase the difficulty when she gets a 90% success rate.

For the two heeling exercises, I'll do one trial, and measure the distance she covers before failing (and then, of course, do an easier version so she ends on a good note). I'm a bit uncertain about doing the test this way- I hate to set her up to fail- but it seems like the best way to see what her maximum duration is each day. Any thoughts on this?

I won't be updating this every day, but here's today's baseline:
1. Get-ins (left, 90 degrees): 40%
2. Attention heeling: 2 steps
3. Straight fronts (re-set with a 90 degree pivot to the right): 60%
4. Duration heeling: 1.25 laps

I'm really pleased with how well she picked up the attention heeling for even one step. I've never required that before, and she's never really offered it either, so it's cool that I got two steps! I'm also surprised by the number of straight fronts she got. I did feel that she was frustrated with the duration heeling, which means it's good I'm working on this, although I'll need to be careful not to raise that criteria too fast.

Anyway, I'd love some feedback! Does this sound reasonable? Is there anything you'd do differently, or not at all? Let me know!


Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

great plans! I'm trying hard to write out my goals (and thus actually need to have goals!) for every 2 weeks this year.

For the heeling- why have 2 different sets of criteria? I think you should set a focal point (whether it be your eyes, hand, hip, whatever) and start 300 peck (i love that method!) with your new criteria. Then you can start raising criteria to be straight, in position, etc. I just think it would be confusing to work on 2 separate issues, especially if you are already calling everything "heel."

I love pivoting for working on position of fronts and heel. and i know you know about Sue Ailsby's front ray diagrams!

I have no idea about your test idea. Why i might count and see how many I rewarded, i've never done a formal test on seeing at exactly what limit my dogs can still respond for any cue. I usually find out just in training if they make a mistake i make it easier, but have never purposefully set out to find the line. so no input from me!

and finally for fast work, I like starting out doing fast time like in that one rally sign (halt-fast or something). And of course throwing rewards forward. Actually i also throw the treat forward and then immediately do a 180 as the dog goes to get it so the dog has to sprint to catch back up to me.

Good luck!

Dawn said...

Good Idea. Magic and I are going to set some goals as well and start working them right now. Even though I might not post them til tomorrow. The only thing I would worry about is if the "tests" stress her out to much you might reverse the progress made. Magic shuts down when he thinks he failed.

Crystal said...

Dawn, that's a really good point- she is a dog that stresses easily, so I'll watch closely for any signs of stress during the tests. Last night, she thought it was just another part of the game (and really, the tests aren't different than the training, I'm just counting then).

Amazingly, I've never seen Maisy shut down from failure. I seem to have been blessed with a dog that will try harder the next time to get it right. She does have a no reward marker that kind of acts as a keep going signal- I tell her "try again!" and she will. However, she WILL shut down if I drill with her, which is why I put time limits on the training and testing. :)

Laura, I had the same reservations about heeling with two sets of criteria, and perhaps I should rethink it. I work on them separately, incidentally, and I'm not using a word either time, I just set her up and step off, although the step off in and of itself is a cue.

Anyway, I don't want constant eye contact while we heel. I never have. It's really pretty and flashy, but it seems to drive her to forge (which could be fixed, I know), and I'm concerned that it will be hard on her neck and back. Since she already has back issues, I don't want to force eye contact like that. I also feel it's important that she can look around so she can see what's going on since she's so fearful. Of course... that does increase the amount of distraction...

Anyway, I really only want the eye contact for the first several steps, because she has a huge tendency to forge then. After that, I want heads up attentiveness, something I can see in her head and ear position, as well as her body position. That attentiveness is what I want to work on with duration. And I have that criteria because she really needs to get off the treats for trials! I really think she disengaged from me this weekend because she was frustrated about the lack of tasty feedback.

So, really, I'm not doing 300 peck eye contact heeling- I'm just building a strong pattern of "look at mom when you start heeling," and then pay attention, even if you aren't looking. I think perhaps the name is misleading? Perhaps I should rename what we're doing. It's more like "attention for the first 5 steps"- which could be tested in trials of ten- and then the 300 peck heeling, which is about duration, but not eye contact.

Does that make more sense? I feel like it makes sense in my head, but I'm struggling to explain it.

Laura, Lance, and Vito said...

I totally agree that eye contact can teach a dog to forge. I do heel with eye contact, and i do have forging problems, but i also turn my head to the side while heeling which people yell at me for. But if you dont require eye contact most people agree that you do want some focal point. Are you on the Ring Tested yahoo group list? Lots of OTCH people are on there and they have great ideas on how to teach heeling with a focal point and with little dogs the focal point is low.

If you are working on eye contact for only the first 5 steps, then i guess you could have 2 separate criteria. but i still think it would be kind've weird to do more then 5 steps of heeling when working on that initial eye contact.

Crystal said...

It seems like every choice you make has a trade off somewhere, huh? I've read about having a focal point for heeling the little ones, but I have a hard time telling if she's looking at whatever I've chosen (pants leg, hand, whatever). It's harder to know if she's looking in the right spot than to know if she's looking in my eyes!

After this conversation, though, I'm beginning to wonder if my heeling criteria will be too confusing for her. I want eye contact as we step off the first couple of steps, and after that, I want her attentive and checking in, but I don't require constant eye contact. Is this going to be confusing? Or is that the point of having a focal point on the pants leg or hand?

I think the most frustrating part of dog training is my inexperience. I really learn through experience, so even though I understand certain ideas, they don't really sink in until I've tried them out (and usually make a mistake)... my next dog, though! lol