Sunday, January 10, 2016

Continued: Thoughts on Amy and Andy

Back to Amy and Andy, and their training.

Before we move on to that tho, given the long nights this time of year, and the fact that these two disappear in the dark? I sewed up a couple of safety vests for them. Cut one of my old work safety vests in two and sewed on some velcro. Absolutely increases their visibility on these dark winter nights. Pretty nice, huh?

But talking about training, and personality. All that jazz. I feel like I'm repeating myself a lot. My initial impressions of their personalities from the first weeks continue to be validated, and strengthened.

They both have a large resistance level to cooperating when they do not consider something fun. And a large level of resistance to performing some basic, but essential, obedience tasks. They are much happier when they can do what I want without me ever giving a command. The problem is, when they do this, I am no longer directing the action. It IS interesting, but I am not comfortable trying to utilize this ability. When there were just "farm collies", this kind of independence was prized. E.g. The "Lassie" or "Lad" who opened the gate in the morning, led the cows to pasture, brought them home, and then closed the gate - with no direction. But, when I allow it, it means I am trusting their judgement to act wisely and correctly. In today's non-farm world, this would only be acceptable if I were able to immediately halt any action they took, and redirect them to where I want them.

When I got in touch with the English Shepherd people, the first significant comment I got back, as I said before, was that they should have been adopted out separately. And, failing that, the way to train them was to do as much separately as possible.

I can see this. When I train them separately, I get small step results. Meaning you start with the best response you can get, and work on that, building it up an inch at a time if necessary. I put them together, and, as I said, they cue on each other, and sometimes the training goes out the window.

But I don't want to train them completely separately. It's no fun for me for one thing. It would mean making two trips out per day - and that is beyond what I want to do at the moment. Also, it means doing something to manage the dog who gets left behind.

They both show signs of fairly intense separation anxiety, both from me, and from their sibling. The one who is active shows only a little separation anxiety, but the one left behind? Intense.

I can not just leave them in the house, as, in their agitation, they will tear some things up and knock others over. Only trying to see us out the windows - but doing so constantly and energetically. When left in the house, Andy forgot himself, and ate the cat kibble that he had left alone for weeks. All kinds of stuff near windows was knocked over for both of them. So, the typical solution offered is to crate the one left behind. Andy, in the crate, barked continuously from the moment we left the house. Amy does not bark as much, but is equally agitated and nervous. And if she catches sight of us, she is extremely agitated, and vocal - barking a lot. They are both distressed by the experience. Some might say "they will live through it". And, yes, of course, yes, they would. But it is also a very negative experience. And certainly does not fit in the positive feedback training model. These two are NOT good at self-calming.

As I've said, I think I've repeated myself a lot in my descriptions of these two. This, I think, represents two things. First, I am very much trying to understand how to successfully train these two. Second, I am very much trying to understand exactly what is happening. The questions, for me, have been: 'what is breed instinct?'; 'what part is down to these dog's personal behavior?'  I have to answer those questions. I also have to figure out how to label their behavior patterns, so that I can communicate those patterns to others, so that I can understand the behavior and act to counter or encourage it.

So, let me see what we have. (This list is disorganized, more like train-of-thought.)
  • An ES trainer says they should have been separated, or 2nd best - train them separately - "a lot" 
  • An ES owner says that 75% recall (and working to get better) is not good enough. They need to "earn" the right to go off-leash or to otherwise do fun things.
  • The comment from the ES people was "they have each other, they don't need you". 
  • I think we can definitively label their separation behavior as separation anxiety. 
  • Ian Dunbar (famous trainer and training author) suggests two things: offering graduated rewards for behavior (higher value for better work), and points out that walks and runs themselves can be a reward, as the dog regards the value of each quite highly. 
  • Outside of food, my two pooches regard play time, and "free woods play time" as very high value activities. 
  • Amy is exceptionally delicate and sensitive to negative responses - even when it does not concern her. E.g. when Andy gets a "NO", Amy feels hurt. Amy is the emotionally delicate part of the team - the hyper-sensitive one.
  • Andy is exceptionally hard-headed, and resistant to negative responses. E.g. it takes a LOT of "NO" to get a reaction from Andy. He is also resistant to most positive rewards that I, as a trainer, can give. E.g. food. He responds well when the food is right there, and is the obvious reward. But we quickly get to the "no food, no correct behavior" syndrome there, when food treats are subsequently withheld. Andy is, relatively, the goofball, not the thinker, and not the emoter. Andy is the one, who, when faced with fresh cornbread put out on the holiday table, and no one around, got up on the table and started chowing down on the cornbread. Intelligent, on the goofball side.
  • I do not want to separate the two. We got the two because we wanted two dogs.
    • The bonding that is a negative in training is also a positive for them as a part of the family. Watching them play is incredibly entertaining.
    • The bonding that gets in the way of their training is one of their endearing points. 
    • Their bond it likely what got them through their first two years still "sane", in a doggy way. They revert to play to counter both boredom and stress, and this tool works well for them. I see them revert to play when they get excited due to a training accomplishment. If they were, indeed, essentially locked in a shed for most of their first two years, that play would have given them the exercise and mental stimulation they need to survive. 
  • They follow me constantly. They are my shadows. 

I don't explain all this particularly well. They are each very complex individuals, with many nuances in their behavior. Klinger and Sara were quite straightforward and simple in comparison. And my powers of description show themselves to be commonplace at best!

I've been focusing on making them do tasks separately, even though we are all doing things together. So they have to "down" (and stay) while the other takes their turn. This has been a difficult thing at times, but we are making progress.

I focus on doing tasks, for them, that build self-calming. I make them wait for their turn to get a reward. I make them down and stay while I go out-of-sight (particularly difficult), and WAIT before we go on a run. I'm using the run, and the play-time response, as rewards for good behavior.

Even though they do have each other, as the ES people said, they also have a strong need for human companionship and guidance. But, it is like what another trainer on my reading list wrote, "You have to make yourself fun to the dog" (paraphrased). They have a very strong desire to bond with a human. What I should do is try to make sure that whatever option I offer is more desirable than what they see as the alternative. E.g. "Which is more fun, running with Andy? Or doing tricks for Mark?" I have to make sure they understand that "running with Andy" only comes after they show responsibility and take care of tasks. And, I have to make sure that the activities I offer can compete with "running with Andy".

Even though it sounds harder, I CAN compete with "running with Andy". When I send these two on agility tasks, they have a BIG feeling of accomplishment. It may not be better than "running with Andy", but it is in the competition!

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