Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dog Parkour (Urban Agility): What is it and why should we join class?

What is dog parkour (Urban agility)?

Parkour is a physical discipline in which individuals move through their environment and conquer obstacles in their path. It includes climbing, balancing, jumping, running, vaulting, creativity and working past fear. So what is dog parkour? Dog parkour, sometimes known as urban agility, is an activity based on the same principles. It is a challenging but fun physical activity in which the dogs learn to interact with their environment. Just like in the human version, in dog parkour class we work on ways to conquer obstacles, such as climbing, balancing, and jumping.

What do we do?
This class is always different! We meet at different parks every week and focus on different skills depending on the setup of the park.  Skills learned may include balancing on logs, walls, rocks, or benches, jumping over objects, standing or placing two paws on objects that move,  going under, around or climbing on objects. What we do varies each week and is tailored to the needs of the individual dogs in the class.
What dogs and handlers this class best suitable for?

Dogs should have basic obedience skills such as sit, down, walking on leash and something resembling a recall.  Taking at least one basic obedience class before coming to dog parkour is highly recommended. Keep in mind classes are held in a park setting, so there may be other dogs, running children, bikes or other distractions present. This is a great opportunity to work with distractions around, but the environment may be too over stimulating for some dogs.  

Dogs should be in good health and able to perform simple physical skills such as climbing stairs and going on ½ - 1 mile walks. Class is tailored to each dog, so old dogs, young dogs, and dogs with physical limitations are welcome to come play too!

Class moves around a lot, so handlers will need to be able to walk ½ - 1 mile. Some bending and kneeling may be needed in order to teach your dog specific skills (Handlers we can tailor class to your physical needs too! And don’t worry you don’t have to do parkour in this class).

Why will my dog benefit?
You and your dog will have the opportunity to work as a team and have fun in a new and sometimes difficult environment. Interacting with the environment will increase your dog’s confidence, ability to problem solve, and ability to work with distractions present. This class is a great foundation for agility or other dogs sports and is also an excellent way to work on things such as teeter fears outside of agility class. It can be a physically and mentally demanding activity, so is excellent for conditioning (and wearing out!) your dog. It is also a  fun activity to do with your dog without the pressure that comes with some competitive sports.

Who teaches it?

Karin Coyne and Abigail Curtis DVM teach dog parkour. They are the founders of Adventure Unleashed, and the Ohio 4-H Dog Experience, an overnight camp for teens and their dogs. In addition to running dog camp and teaching for seven years they have also both been training for parkour for 2 ½ years, giving them what they like to call “parkour vision,” seeing creative ways to use their environment that they didn’t realize before being introduced to parkour!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

TAG Think

By Rachel Olson

Sometimes what you learn at camp changes everything. Slowly, maybe you don’t even notice at first. But it can. And does. Like TAG thinking did to me. It starts out slowly, like those first couple weeks when you get home from camp when you really want to TAG someone. Or maybe do... Then maybe you find yourself going “well, if I do my homework then I can do ______.” Then you realize you are using Premack on yourself. And don’t care, in fact it might even be cool. So then you talk one of your camp friends into playing Premack games with you. One person sets a timer, work until it goes off, then get so much free time, and repeat. This becomes so popular it spreads to other camp kids, then non-camp kids, and needs shortened for better texting: Pmack tnt?? Plz!!

Fast forward a few years: you are now a counselor, for the same amazingly awesome camp. The camp that your whole life now revolves around. There are 28 things to do on the joint camp To-Do List. Most of which are excruciatingly painful and boring, like IRS paperwork. You know you are in good company when the first thing discussed is “How in the world are we going to do this?” So, we came up with a list of reinforcers, talked some theory and settled on a way to tackle the (almost literal) mountain. Our good ol’ buddy Premack. Funny how some things don’t change.

So what exactly is the Premack Principle? Basically, higher probability behaviors reinforce behaviors of lesser probability. We use this when training: the reward for releasing something is to have it back, or a cue for a favorite trick is used as a reward. But why should something that works so well have to be just limited to our dogs? My roommate and I used it in college: read a chapter then get to eat M&Ms, talk to each other, or watch a YouTube video. The possibilities are endless! Hate mowing? Follow it with a nap. How about cleaning the house or doing laundry? Follow by reading a chapter of your favorite book. Try it, you just may find yourself doing the cleaning out the fridge or writing blog posts!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

TAG! Not Just Another Game at Camp

TAG! Not Just Another Game at Camp

By Karin Coyne and Abigail Curtis DVM

Twelve teenage girls, twelve dogs, four days and three nights. How does one manage that without yelling, nagging or feeling frustrated? Seven years ago, we started a 4-H dog camp along with another friend. Teenagers and their dogs come to camp and try a variety of activities: agility, obedience, tracking, nosework, flyball, and anything else we can imagine. Teaching the activities is the easy part, but how do you manage that many campers and dogs? TAGteach to the rescue!

The first few years of camp, we attempted to use TAGteach based on what we had been able to pick up on the internet and applying the principles of clicker training to people. It went... okay.  There were parts that didn’t seem to work and we had a hard time implementing it.  The campers still had a good time, but it simply didn’t work as smoothly as we wanted it to.

We Went to a TAGteach Seminar!

Until we went to a seminar. That’s when it all clicked for us. We came out of there simply bursting with ideas. It changed the way we taught, the way we managed campers, and most importantly, it changed the way we THOUGHT.

Yes, the tag points are important and the reinforcement schedules we have developed make a huge difference, but for us, the real value comes in how we think about our campers.  We teach with positive reinforcement at camp. Period. It doesn’t matter if you are a dog, a camper, a counselor, or our nurse (though we do make a special exception for any stinging insects that enter our cabins!) we give you the privilege of learning in an environment free of intimidation, fear, yelling, or nagging. The shift into TAG thinking is what has allowed us to do exactly that.

An Amazing Shift in Mindset

For example:
We do all of our own cooking at camp and the campers use real plates, cups and silverware.  This means that there are quite a few dirty dishes produced in one meal. One year, after spending too much time washing dishes, we had the brilliant idea to simply inform the campers that the tag point is: wash a dish. Each dish washed earns them a tag.  Now, instead of having to nag them about washing dishes we simply say “tag point is wash dishes” and they get washed. We noticed an interesting phenomenon at camp that year. Campers were heard discussing who last washed dishes, but instead of it being in the vein of “I did it already someone ELSE has to do it this time” it was instead in the vein of “I have already had the dish washing opportunity for earning tags, who wants it now?” Which was an amazing shift in mindset for use to observe.

Creative Solutions

Also, as we have practiced TAG thinking, it has become more natural and creative and positive solutions to problems come easier to us. At camp this year, the campers were sent on the task of packing all of their stuff up right before the last camp activity.  As soon as they were all done, we would be able to head up. The problem was, there was a lot of procrastination and it was impossible to tell if a camper was finished packing and just hanging about distracting the other campers or if she needed encouragement to get back on task.

The solution came to us in the when A then B tag point: When you are finished packing, the tag point is Popsicle.  It worked brilliantly for several reasons. One, there was increased motivation for completing packing as the tag point was inherently reinforcing.  Two, it was easy to see who was finished packing. And three, it is harder to be a distraction to other campers if you have a popsicle in your mouth!

By continually consciously practicing the art of TAG thinking, we have been able to make TAG a natural part of camp. Our campers have benefited significantly from our efforts, and your learners likely will tool!

Originally posted on TAGTeach blog. Join Karin Coyne, Abigail Curtis, Joan Orr and Theresa McKeon for a fun-filled webinar on Aug 13, 2013 the topic of TAGteach at Camp. Click here for more info or to register.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What Are You Afraid Of?

What Are You Afraid Of?

By Abigail Curtis DVM

What are you afraid of?

Heart racing, sweaty palms, complete lack of ability to think or process information, the overwhelming desire to sprint in the opposite direction. This was me every time someone tried to have me vault OVER a railing without my feet touching it. They tried everything. Hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions practicing a similar vault where my foot would touch. Then the helpful “now just do it without your foot” which caused me to be unable to do even the simplest of tasks. Weeks and months passed by without success. To the point the thought of jumping a railing led to fear, anger, frustration, disappointment and crying. I desperately WANTED to jump the railing. But I was terrified.

Now, you may ask, why on earth was someone trying to get my to vault over a railing put there for the sole purpose of ensuring my safety?  Good question! On February 15, 2011, Karin Coyne and I started this new crazy sport called parkour.  Parkour is a physical discipline whereby practitioners utilize physical training to master their own movements by climbing, running, jumping and balancing over the obstacles in their environments.

For a brief video introduction to parkour, see here:

Karin and I had been using TAGteach for several years at our dog camp, but had never used it for for anything “sport” related.  When we started running into trouble with parkour skills, we decided to experiment on utilizing TAGteach to help. We used it for little things we were struggling to master such as roll form and handstands.  The more time we spent tagging, the better we got at it. Our timing (which was spot-on when clicking dogs) improved and the tag points became more natural.

I distinctly recall the day that I told Karin we were going to use TAGteach to “fix” my vault problem.  It was going to be TAGteach’s first real “test” in parkour. Neither of us knew if it was going to work, or if we had the skills necessary, but I was at my wits end with this issue and wanted it solved yesterday. And it did indeed work. Less than an hour later, I successfully jumped over a railing!

We had unlocked a new-to-us use for TAGteach!  I won’t be so bold to say that that first time using TAGteach in this way was smooth sailing.  There are quite a few things that, having used it many more times since this fateful day, I would go back and change. But one thing's for sure: TAGteach works amazingly well at conquering fear.

So, what have we learned?

1) Start with a point of comfort
Start where your learner is comfortable. Note: this may be different than the point of success. Your measurement of success is not actually can he/she perform xyz skill, it is can they do so comfortably? Try to be non-judgemental about where this point is. It is up to your learner to set it, regardless of where you think she should be at this stage. Err on the side of “too easy.” Your learner probably has a long history of this skill being impossible. A few easy tags won’t slow the process down nearly as much as overstepping here.

2) Watch (and read) your learner
Remember, your learner is your guide. When training dogs, we are quick to look for those signs of stress. Learn to see signs that you have asked too much of your learner: that deep breath, face scratch, hesitant nod, slumped shoulder, etc. When you see these, the best way forward is to go backward.

3) Break the skill down
While this relates to the actual teaching of the skill, often the most important thing to break down is the fear itself. It might be the height, the speed, the number of people watching, or any number of other variables. Figure out what that is, then figure out how to break it into pieces. This process might require a fair bit of creativity.

4) Build up a reinforcement history
You need your learner to trust you implicitly. This trust is established when you have reinforced your leaner over and over many times thus creating a deep reinforcement history.This is what is going to get you through those moments when you mess up and push too far. Be ready and able to admit that you messed up and need to figure out some other way. This will remove that stressor from your learner and enable her to concentrate on conquering her fear. And rarely, you can use that reinforcement history to help push your learner through the fear. Use this power with caution! It is more likely to backfire than be helpful!

5) Use a cousin tag point
A cousin tag point is one that causes what you want to happen, and gives the learner something to focus on instead of the barrier. In my case, my tag point was “feet past hands.” We had practiced this on a wall repeatedly so when we got to the railing, Karin was able to give me the “feet past hands” tag point. I knew exactly what this felt like and knew I could do it. What she wanted me to do was to jump over the railing, and she very easily could have given a tag point of “feet over bar” but in that scenario, I would be focusing on the scary element instead of just “feet past hands.”

Using TAGteach, I was able to vault over rails and begin to apply it in a variety of other fearful situations. It took quite a bit of trial and error to become useful, but hopefully you can use these tips to succeed with your students and their fears!

Originally posted on TAGteach blog.