Bowie

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Bowie (13 weeks old)
Bowie (16 weeks old)


Bowie is an Australian Shepherd. Despite the name Australian Shepherds were developed in the United States. The name comes from, "their association with the Basque sheepherders who came to the United States from Australia in the 1800’s."[1].

"Australian Shepherd are an intelligent, medium-sized dog of strong herding and guardian instincts."[1]. Bowie is an intelligent, small-sized dog, with some amount of herding and guardian instinct.

Bowie was born Thu, 13 Jun 2019. At the time of this writing he is 13 weeks old.

Reinforcement/Training

We use many training resources to help train Bowie (e.g., Progressive Reinforcement Training and FOCUS training); all of these techniques fall into the category of Operant Conditioning involving clicker training.

The basics of training are: click when you get a desirable behavior and then give the dog a treat. The clicker allows you to discriminate between behaviors instantly, without having to rush a treat to the dog. The "click" sound is a secondary reinforcer; that is, it is a reinforcer that is initially meaningless, but becomes reinforcing in itself through its association with a primary reinforcer such as food.

Reinforcer Rank

When trying to reinforce behavior, it's helpful to know what a dog finds reinforcing. Here is a ranking (desc) of what Bowie finds reinforcing as of Sep 2019:

  1. Treats: Bowie is not particular about which treat he gets, but food that is not his regular kibble is what he finds most highly reinforcing
  2. Kong/Topple: He runs to his ex-pen for either of these frozen delights
  3. Kibble: Used for most training and "stop biting me, please" moments.
  4. Bully Stick
  5. Toys: The Chase 'N' Pull, followed by his Outward Hound squeeky elephant, followed by his sloth friend
  6. Praise/Play/Petting: this is reinforcing, not, say, reinforcing enough to make him stop doing something that is self-reinforcing like barking/chewing/biting, but he digs it

Sleep

Bowie sleeps a little more than a third of his day. Puppies sleep for between 15 and 20 hours a day [2]. Bowie's routine cycle is, roughly, 3 hours of eating, training, and playing; followed by a couple hours of sleep.

At night (when you want to sleep), Bowie is pretty calm. He has been getting a bathroom break at 1:00AM and 4:30AM; however, we've been phasing out the 1:00AM break.

Barking

Bowie sometimes barks when he should be sleeping in his pen or crate. The first step to abatement is to ensure that all his needs are met: bathroom, water, food. If he's recently used the bathroom, he's eaten, he's recently had some water, then it's probably best to ignore it: it will usually fizzle out in < 5 minutes (set a timer). If barking does not stop within 10 minutes or so (or worse, it gets more frantic) try taking him out again — he may need to poop! If all else fails try to get him to lie down, and feed him treats very slowly and low to the ground. This last step is rarely ever needed anymore (haven't used for several weeks).

Food

Puppies Bowie's age (13 weeks) should be eating from 2.3 to 3.3 cups of food per day [3]. I keep this on the low end—2.5 cups—since I also like to give him treats liberally throughout the day.

I do not feed Bowie from a bowl. I feed him either from a frozen puppy Kong (which holds 0.5 cups), or by hand, one piece at a time, until he has reached his allotted total for the day.

Per day, he gets:

  • 2x Frozen Kongs filled with kibble (½ C., ea.)
  • 2x Frozen Toppls filled with kibble + soft food (~¼ C., ea.)

The additional cup is used as a training aid.

Schedule

1:00 Potty break
4:30 Potty Break
6:00 Frozen Kong in Pen
6:30 Play time!
7:30 Nap
8:30 "Long" (for a puppy -- about 1 mile) walk
9:30 Nap
11:00 Potty Break
11:15 "Long" walk
12:30 Frozen Toppl in his pen for a nap
14:00–15:00ish Potty Break/play time/training
16:00-17:00ish Nap
18:30 short walk/play time
20:30 Go to crate for bed
21:00 Actually asleep

Treats

I use kibble to train, mostly. He has to eat a whole 1+ cup of food by hand, so I am able to treat liberally and train quickly. Treats of a high value can make Bowie do anything. I save high value treats for when I'm trying to build value into an area or object; e.g., his crate, his bath tub, his pen, etc. OR when I'm trying to convince him to do something he's timid about: walk down a hallway/through a doorway.

Potty Training

Bowie is not fully potty trained. He has never pooped in the house. We have puppy pads in his pen in case he has to go and we don't notice for whatever reason. He uses them when he can.

He should be taken out whenever he wakes up from a nap — this means once every few hours. The accidents that he has had, and the times that he's used the puppy pads, are the times when he wakes up and we don't take him outside immediately, or we're asleep and don't take him outside immediately.

See also: Bowie's days without incident

Behaviors

Targeting

Targeting is the first thing I taught Bowie via shaping. As a result this behavior is deeply ingrained and he does not need a lure offer this behavior whenever you extend your hand.

This is a good "check-in" or "are you capable of paying attention right at this moment?" exercise. If you suspect Bowie may be over-tired, see if he can target. If he's reluctant, or only does it after moving a bit closer to him; i.e., shrinking the training bubble, he's pooped.

See the video on YouTube

Look at me

Look at me is a behavior Bowie can do even when he's really tired, and it's a good check-in to see if he's distracted. To perform Look at me you can either say "Look at me", "Bowie", or make some noise; in general those are all queues to look at the human saying them's face.

You need to be fairly close to him to get him to do this, but within a few feet from a standing position is fine.

Sit

The cue to sit is to raise a closed fist backwards over his head. This can be done from a fully standing position when Bowie is in a good listening mood. A lure is seldom needed at this point for sit. He's also fairly good at manding when he wants attention (i.e., sitting automagically).

Lie down

The cue to lie down is to point your index finger to the ground in front of him (you may need to put your finger on the ground, especially if he's being an asshole).

Sometimes you need to use a lure to get him to lie down, particularly when he's over-tired. Put a piece of kibble in front of his nose, make sure he smells it, lower it to the floor. Once he's on the floor, click/mark (i.e., say "good") and treat.

See Video on YouTube

Leave it-ish

He is far from expert level at Leave It, but he can leave a pile of food alone on the floor.

See Video on YouTube.

Recall/Fetch

Recall, A.K.A. Come, is a behavior with which Bowie rarely has a problem. When we first brought him home Blazey and I worked on calling him back and forth to us as a form of burning energy. As it turns out, this was also the best recall training we could have possibly done. I now work on recall as part of other games, i.e., Bowie is already playing a bit of fetch.

See Video on YouTube.

Find It

If you throw some treats down and say "Find it!" excitedly, he'll eat the treat, and then look back at you at which point you throw more treats. This isn't a "trick" per-say, but it is so so so useful to get his attention *off* of something (like biting you, or barking at another dog, etc.)

Tug of War

He's not very good at tug of war yet, except with your pant legs (cf: biting). He's getting interested in toys, but it's not a huge deal for him.

Stand on this thing

Standing on a sheet pan

I did this as a shaping exercise with a yoga block once upon a time. I clicked and treated every time he got close to the yoga block until eventually he got the idea that I wanted him to stand on it. Now he will volunteer to stand on anything you put on the floor, mostly.

This is also the reason he has no problem on a balance board (video from the first 15 minutes of having the thing)

Troubleshooting

Bowie's failure to preform the above behaviors is contingent upon his level of distraction, anxiety, and exhaustion.

Biting

This is currently (as of September 2019) Bowie's biggest issue. He loves to nip at pant legs, ankles, and he'll get your hands if you play rough with him. Here's a list of things to try when he's biting in order of ascending biting problem level:

  • Ask him to sit and look at you, if he does and he stops biting say "good boy" or "yes!" give him a piece of kibble/treat
  • Play Find It
  • Bring his attention to a toy in the area. Make it enticing so he bites it instead, or just put it in his mouth
  • If neither of the above work, it's a good sign that he's over-stimulated and probably over-tired. Pick him up, and put him in the pen for 10 minutes

Hiccups

He gets them a lot.

The Pen™

Problem behaviors are often a symptom that Bowie is overtired and/or overstimulated. When that happens, it's best that he spend some time in his crate or exercise pen.

He sometimes whines when he needs to be in the crate. This usually calms down in < 5 minutes (set a timer, it feels like longer). If he's just working himself into a frenzy then see the section above on whining.