Friday, March 9, 2012

Page Move

Trying to be a responsible person, I'm having more things in one location.   The blog will now be at it's new location.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book 19: Plenty in Life is Free - Kathy Sdao

Short response: If you work with dogs or volunteer with dogs or if you really enjoy dogs, go order it now.     You can read it in one me.

Longer Response: It's a short book. And to the point. Yet kind of long when you think it's primarily about one small topic (it's not --too-- long. I wish it was a thousand times longer!) It's great.  The subtitles and wordplay is excellent.  She's easy to understand. She's logical. 

It's my favorite people-and-animal-relationship book.  Typically I really don't like those types of books because they're a little...non sciency and outdated and illogical and more opinion than based than of anything else. This one is none of those things!  Read it!

Despite hearing a lot about Kathy Sdao, I wasn't able to get to any of her seminars. I didn't watch any of her DVD's and at ClickerExpo I couldn't make it to any of her talks.  I heard she was great but I didn't get it.

For a while, ClickerExpo had the last sessions on Sunday as inspiring-now what to do with all this information- isn't this great sort of talks.  From this year's schedule that's not happening anymore, but the only think I saw of hers for a few years was her talk on why clicker training is really so-so-so important and how it's really not just about being nice to dogs.  It's about our perceptions of the world and our interactions with everyone and how they then interact with others.   I like that talk so much that I went to it again, the next time I was at Expo.  

And that's what the book is about, especially the last chapter.  

Plenty in life is free for Griffin!
For those that work with dogs and their owners... it's vitally important that we know exactly what we're saying, how we're influencing the human-animal bond and future interactions between the family and their animals.  They aren't necessarily interpreting our instruction, discussion, and recommendations in the way we intend for the family to understand.  Our recommendations don't always foster the types of interactions we intend.

An earlier chapter has a great section on how we believe things 'just because' and that we need to really need to re-think some of the dog-training-beliefs that exist.   One of these that Kathy Sdao brought to my attention last year: attention.  At that point, she said she wasn't teaching attention. It happened as a by-product of the other training and activities and reinforcement.   I couldn't let go. We started EVERY class of every type with attention exercises! Attention is vital!  But over time I've let it go.  Sometimes I still have teams do attention training, more often for the human than anything else.   No more attention every week.  And yet the dogs are not more inattentive than before. I save a lot of class time.*

Note... there are a  lot of religious themes in the book.  Enough that it's not something that I'd feel comfortable passing out to clients and enough that I'd mention it when I recommend it to enthusiasts. 

So now what? I'll have to think about it.  Read it again.  Change some things in my classes and lessons to better help dogs and owners.  It's the kind of book where I don't really want to do anything after I read it, I just have to think it through for a while.  For the first time, I wish I didn't have classes tonight. It's going to be hard to teach while I'm thinking so loudly.

*Yes, dogs need to know to be attentive, yes it's needed for some activities, yes it's a good starter activity, yes it can be a good way to learn clickerly things and timing and all.  Etc. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Field Trip

This morning the "Advanced Agility" class took a field trip to go and watch an agility trial.  It was nice to take them to see what we're working towards, how it should look, and how proficient the class has become. 

The class got to see how a trial runs, the various volunteer jobs, what happens, what to think about as an exhibitor and how we spend all this time, energy, and money for less than a minute at a time in the ring. 

We saw some people we know and a few people who have been my instructors or classmates in the past.  It wasn't as busy as I expected, there must have been an AKC trial within a reasonable distance to draw some people away?

I want to trial with my dogs!  Griffin went to visit and he wasn't wanting to eat but he was very attentive and working well outside.

The field trip is definitely something we should do more of in the future for several of our classes and to help students set goals and visualize what they're working towards.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Not Practicing Errors

An important part of basic training is to not give the dog opportunities to practice the incorrect response.  If your dog jumps on visitors? Keep him far enough away. Pulls on leash? Find other exercise options until his walking training is better established.  Barks in his crate? Find alternative confinement until he's comfortable in the crate.

It also goes for dogs learning sports and other activities. If your dog doesn't have the training for a skill, avoid it unless you are working specifically on that activity.  Can't do his contact behavior?  Stay away from the obstacle unless you are specifically training that skill.  Can't do rear crosses at tunnels?  Avoid that option for now.  Can't do straight sits during heeling?  No stopping!

We have to remember that the errors are happening because our learner can't do the task, doesn't understand the task, or isn't motivated enough to do the task. Every time we have errors happening, they may be more likely to happen in the future.

And now... I'm off to go walk all of my dogs separately so that we can work on specific skills that are not able to be addressed appropriately on a group walk.  Blaze turning away from water. Luna getting short turns off leash. And Griffin ignoring the geese.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jumping on People

This is one of the most common reasons people come to class and it often has easy fixes.We do a lot of exercises in class to teach appropriate behavior around people.

Many times people are told the advice to "ignore the dog" when he jumps up and then to "reward with attention" when he's on the floor or sitting.

This isn't bad advice. It's better than spraying the dog or yelling at him or stepping on him.  But it's also not so great. It can take a long time, it can be unsafe for the person, and it can create frustration and anxiety, both of which make the situation more dangerous or the behavior more intense.

For all dogs who jump up, our plan has three parts.

Management: We list all the times the dog is likely to jump up. We want to know these so that we can train appropriately (If your dog only jumps on visitors, we'll soon need to find other people to help with training.) and we need to know how to prevent the dog from practicing the behavior throughout the training process.  Sometimes this means tossing a hand full of treats on the floor before entering the house or keeping the dog crated with a great chew toy when visitors come over.  Crates, gates, and doors to give the dog fewer opportunities. Leash the dog and have him settling while visitors are over. Stay far enough away from other people that he does not jump up.

Training: As I've mentioned before, we do a lot of training exercises to teach the dog to greet people. The dog learns to sit for other people. The dog learns to be attentive to his owner rather than the visitors, and the dog learns more self control.

If it goes wrong: and the dog jumps up, we respond appropriately. If it's a frail person or someone with your birthday cake....okay, yes, pull your dog off... but other than those situations, just wait. Gravity will win. The dog will return to the ground on his own. If we find we're employing this plan more than once or twice a week, we may need to re-evaluate our plan and improve our management or training.  "Ignoring" the behavior is not the crucial piece of the training plan, it's our backup plan.

For dogs who are very frantic or who are not making a lot of progress, sometimes there is a lot of anxiety that needs to be addressed before we come back to the training for polite greetings.  The jumping really isn't the problem at hand, and if we don't address the anxiety, the behavior will continue with minimal progress.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Unwanted Behavior Chains

Many people will accidentally train their dogs to jump on a visitor then sit. Or jump on the counter then get off.  Or pull on the leash then return to heel position.

These are created with good intentions. The owner sees the error, then asks for another behavior and reinforces.  The dog learns that if he jumps on a visitor, he will get the person to say Sit, which will give him a chance to sit for a treat. They're great at learning these patterns.

The owners get frustrated because the dogs continually jump up.  

How do we resolve the situation?

Early on, it's important that reinforce the dog for making good choices.  But it's just as important that we move to working at that "Point of Success" where the dog is able to respond correctly -without- first making an error.  Have the visitors far enough away that your dog will not jump. Work far enough from the distraction that your dog will not pull on leash.

It's especially challenging because we like to do "just one more" or "just one step closer" and then errors happen.  Resist the temptation!  Reinforce while you're ahead and then set up another repetition.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Senior Dogs

Last year for Blaze's birthday I wrote about living with abnormal dogs.

Now he's 11!  During the past year we finished his APDT Rally Level 1 title.  We intended to finish his AKC Rally Novice but never got our entries in on time. This year we met a person who was crucial in getting us the help we need when she was up here for a seminar.

APDT L1... finally!

A few years ago at a vet conference, Dr. Lore Haug gave a great talk about senior dogs. I really enjoyed that talk and here are a few things from the notes I took.

Training is important.  Cognitive decline can be a normal part of aging, but activities like training can help slow the rate of this decline.

Training is important.  For the human-animal bond and for enrichment.

Training is important.  To create new behaviors and to maintain trained behaviors.  I read a related story on an obedience list this year... someone was obsessive about training Fronts with his dog and when that dog was very much a senior and started having trouble getting around and responding to cues... it was the one thing she could do until the very end.  Putting in some extra time to maintain super-important behaviors like house training and response to name can be very appreciated later on!

Training is important.  To help your senior dog adapt to changes in his lifestyle. Learning more hand cues can help when his hearing cues.  Learning how to use a ramp to get into the car or other ways to get on the couch than the flying leap that used to be possible.


Blaze still gets training. Not always every day, but I try to work on new behaviors and maintaining what he has. I give him different types of exercise and different enrichment activities. He gets novel foods and the occasional time in training classes.

But changes happen.  Two weeks ago we put a ban on fetch games.  For several years we've restricted fetch games when it's wet, slippery, muddy, or really dry out.   I don't want him slipping or falling or tearing up the grass (making it more likely to be muddy later on!).  But now, even in good traction, he still puts in 100% to the fetch games and it's just not safe. We play at the training facility and he's crashing into walls, furniture, and other things. Even when he doesn't, the sliding stop (4' 8" skid!)  can't be good on his aging body.

A list of 10 things.  At a seminar last winter, Debbie Gross Saunders recommended creating a list of the 10 things your dog loves most. As he ages or his health deteriorates, this list can help you know "when it's time.". Fetch is at the top of Blaze's's been hard to tell him we can't.

A classmate made a comment regarding Griffin, she was talking about golden retrievers, "they never outgrow [running around like crazy]!" and it was both a statement that was happy and not so happy. It can be annoying (Blaze used to just get up on the counters to help himself. He's arthritic enough he can't do that, but he can climb up, one paw at a time, onto a chair and then reach the counter!).  It can be great for sports and activities and quality of life.  And it can be really hard.  I hate that I have to restrict Blaze's activity so much.

And for 2012:  We really hope to do AKC rally and tracking, we'll see what happens!