Monday, April 21, 2014

An afternoon at warp speed

January 31, 2014

Tammy finishes FLD Copo's paperwork and comes over to see what I am up to with Axel's team. She wants to start "class" but decides our recall game fits in with her training plan. She says, "Keep going. I'll go over and do the same thing with Bear's team."

One thing leads to another. Axel's raisers ask what else they could do to discourage the pup from being so mouthy. He is better than when he first arrived, but there is room for improvement.

I have an idea. Both teams had done some nice "leave it" work with the puppies.

A man dressed in a royal blue shirt and a darker blue fleece jacket is sprawled out on a white tile floor on the left side of the picture. A young black lab puppy is lying next to him facing the camera. The puppy has a bit of kibble on each of his front paws which are stretched out in front of him. The puppy is on a grey mat. The man is pointing to the puppy's paws with his right hand. About a foot in front of hte puppy on the floor is another piece of kibble. The puppy is staring at the kibble on the floor, but not moving a muscle.
FLD Bear balances two bits of kibble on his front paws and is staring down a third bit on the floor. Good "leave it!"

"We can use the same technique to help Axel not chew on your hands," I say, referring to the "leave it" command. I take a handful of kibble and put a few in my right hand and the rest in my left. "The treats in my right hand are poison. Axel will NEVER get a treat from this hand," I say, offering my right fist to the puppy.

Axel immediately wraps his teeth around my fingers. I stay still and don't let him have any "poison" kibble. It is difficult. I lift my hand in the air to give my skin a break from his shark-puppy teeth. I try again. Axel tries to devour my hand again. I grit my teeth and hold on.

Axel lets go of my hand for a nano-second. I say "YES!" and offer him a treat from my left hand. He gladly partakes. I remove my left hand and present my right fist again. He goes for it. Before long he backs away and is rewarded with another YES! and a treat from my left hand. After about four times, Axel tastes my hand with much less gusto and backs away much sooner.

I tell the guys that rewarding Axel every time he backs away from mauling their hands will help him learn to leave hands alone.

Tammy gathers everyone together. She asks me to show the group what I've been doing with Axel. My right hand needs a break. I switch hands and set the reward kibble on some books that were piled on a nearby chair. Tammy planned to use the books for a rear leg training exercise.

A woman with short brown hair wearing glasses and a marroon shirt and bluejeans is kneeling on the floor with her left fist in the mouth of a small yellow lab puppy. Her right hand is on her right knee. The yellow lab is facing the right and his tail is wagging as he chomps down ont he woman's fist. Next to the woman on the left side of the photo is a blue plastic chair. About 11 books are piled on the seat of the chair. The woman is making a surprised expression, her eyes and mouth are wide open.
FLD Axel mauls my hand but does not succeed in getting the "poison" treats. After only a few tries, he has no interest in my hand at all. (Photo compliments of Dr. Donna.)

Demo done, Tammy takes the floor. Axel, however, now decides he want more kibble. He leaps up, trying to snatch what I've left on top of the pile of books. One of Axel's raisers snaps his fingers and points to the floor. Axel drops down. The raiser hands him a treat. The pups jumps up straight away. Fingers snap. Four on the floor gains a treat. Again. "He jumps up on us like that when we're lying on our bunks watching TV," one of the men says. He says they snap their fingers or tell Axel "down" and reward him when he gets down.

"So how's that working for you?" I ask. They shake their heads. "Let's try this instead," I say as Axel leaps for the treats that are just out of his reach. "Just wait him out."

After a few attempts at the kibble, Axel's front paws hit the deck. "YES!" I say and drop a bit of kibble on the floor.* We repeat. Soon Axel looses interest and wanders off to attack a Nylabone lying a few feet away.

Back to work. Tammy guides the teams through a ladder exercise designed to teach the pups about their back legs. Did you know that puppies oftentimes struggle with stairs because they don't realize they have back legs?

Men dressed in the blue and orange striped prison uniforms sit in the background watching an inmate raiser guide his yellow lab puppy through the rungs of a ladder. The ladder is laying on the tile floor toward the camera. The raiser on the left is mostly out of view, He is bending at the waits and his left hand is holding the collar of the yellow lab puppy. The puppy is stepping over the rungs of the ladder, looking right at the camera.
FLD Axel's raiser supports the pup at the collar as he steps over each rung. This exercise helps the puppy learn to maneuver his back legs.

After each puppy makes his way through the ladder three times, Tammy explains how to let the puppies learn to make good decisions without always telling them what to do. A thinking puppy grows up to be a Leader Dog that is comfortable making decisions. She demonstrates with FLD Harper how to work past temptations on the floor.

A woman with short white hair and glasses, wearing a grey sweatshirt and blue jeans, holds the leash of an older golden retriever puppy. They are on the left side of the photo. The puppy is wearing the baby blue "working" vest that identifies him as a puppy in training for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Several men are sitting int he background watching. One in the middle is holding the leash of the small yelllow lab, who is standing and watching the other dog intently.
Tammy heels FLD Harper past a ball that she strategically placed on the floor. When he tries to get it, Tammy stops and waits for Harper to ease tension on the leash and turn his attention away from the ball. Then she continues. FLD Axel watches intently.

Tammy talks to the teams about ignoring bad behavior and rewarding the behavior we want. She explains the importance of staging training in low distraction settings, what to manage and when it is okay to "lure" a puppy through a crowd or past a big distraction. We discuss raising criteria when a puppy "knows" a command (not treating for each and every "sit" for example) and how to ration the kibble. "If your puppy only has, say, 50 bits of kibble to use as rewards for the day, you'll have to think about when you are doing to give him those 50 bits," I say. Save them for training sessions and for exceptional behavior.

There is so much information to cover we never get to the leg exercise with the books. That will have to wait for another visit.

All this work makes for tired puppies.

The small yellow lab is fast asleep on the tile floor. He is wearing a blue bandana. His leash is being held by a man that is out of the picture, except for his legs. The man's left leg is extended out next to the puppy. The man is wearing blue pants and white tennis shoes.
A very sleepy FLD Axel.

And, my guess, fairly full raiser brains.

A man dressed in the prison blue uniform is sitting on the floor with his legs extended out in front of him. His hands are floded iin his lap. He is leaning against a metal cart which has a large yellow ball on it. A small black lab puppy is lying tot he left on a grey mat. He is wearing a blue bandana.
FLD Bear snoozes next to inmate raiser Chad.

A man dressed in the prison blue uniform and a blue knit cap is holding a very small black lab puppy in his left arm. He has the pup's leash in his left hand. He has a chew toy in his right hand and is offering it to the puppy. The puppy is snuggling his head into the man's chest. The man is looking down at the puppy.
Time for this raiser to get acquainted with his new puppy, FLD Copo.

*Some time later I learn that dropping treats on the floor is not appropriate for Future Leader Dog puppies. Anything we can do to discourage our puppies from dive bombing things on the floor or ground is important. Thus, a better approach is to treat the puppy close to the floor from the hand.


  1. Love the pictures! Thanks Patti!!

    Axel and his sister Kayla both like jumping onto things they shouldn't! I remember you asking me the same question "so how's that working for you?" I'm very grateful for the advice as the behavior has stopped!

    1. Glad you like the photos, Kim! Yes, I was thinking of you when I selected them. So glad to hear that Kayla isn't jumping anymore. Axel is doing much better also. Thanks for stopping by!