Monday, November 28, 2011

Our Current Favorite Food Reinforcers

1) Fish Treats.  Easy, fast, cheap.

2) French Toast.   Mix egg/s with a small amount of milk (a Tbs or two for each egg? Maybe?).  Dip a piece of bread in that goo... then cook on a griddle until golden brown (flip it over!).  My dogs are --crazy-- about bread.  Bread leaves crumbs...and it's always embarassing to leave a huge mess at training class.  This gets rid of the crumbs, makes it even more appealing and the bread doesn't turn to 100% crumbs in your pouch/pocket.

3) Mozzarella Cheese:  String cheese is's way  more expensive than "regular" cheese.  There are variations in Mozzerella cheeses... my favorite brand currently is Kroger...  it's soft to cut or break, it holds it's shape. No crumbs.  We found a different brand last week that is not breakable but if cut into little pieces, it lasts forever without going bad and it has a very high melting point, making that brand great for hot days.  Unfortunately the packages don't typically mention the melting point...

Fish Treats!
4) Cream Cheese:  I personally dislike peanut butter....  yet recognize the benefits of licky treats.  Peanut butter also makes dogs very thirsty and the oils can ruin clothes/floors.  Cream cheese gets rid of many of these problems!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

When Nail Trim Training Doesn't Go Well

It's important for dogs to not just tolerate, but to willingly participate in nail trims.  But even following a good training plan, sometimes it just doesn't seem to work.  Now what?

Your Dog Doesn't Understand:  Maybe at some point in the process, your dog stopped participating and just tolerated the process. At what stage was the behavior -not- loopy, being offered right after you reinforced? When did your dog start hesitating?  Go back through and be careful to work only under the threshold of "participating" not that threshold of "tolerating."
Your Dog is Not Sufficiently Motivated: Some dogs have more sensitivity, making the nail trims uncomfortable.  Often a higher value reinforcer or a greater history of reinforcement can help to motivate your dog to participate.
Your Dog Is Not Physically or Mentally Capable:  Maybe your nail clippers are not sharp enough or you are moving the leg/paw in a way that is uncomfortable.  Is there a way to make the situation look different?

Some dogs do seem to be more sensitive to pressure on the foot or nail. Dull nail clippers only make the problem worse.   Dogs don't move in all directions and many dog owners will unintentionally move the dog's paw in a way that isn't all that comfortable for him.

When I was grooming, the preferred-by-dogs way was to have the dog standing. Move the foot backwards and flip the toes up (think "like a horse"). Be sure to keep the paw/leg underneath the body and to not pull it out to the side.

One of the shelter dogs who went from growly to pretty great has recently stopped participating. She'll let me clip a nail or two but isn't enjoying it like she used to. She doesn't move as well as she was before.  Her arthritis is getting worse...and moving her toes/feet to get a good angle is uncomfortable.   Some fresh-cooked chicken did motivate her to be a participant today.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Looking at Play

I had two discussions this morning about play.  In both situations, we were trying to determine what was going on with the dog who had poorer social skills.

What did we learn?

  • Video is more useful than photos for this sort of thing.  While the photos could isolate one little part of the play, we also could have just had the dog at "the right moment" where his behavior could be interpreted differently. The video let us see things in context.
  • While we can rate play as "good" "bad" and anything in between, we also have to consider the play on the dog's individual scale.  In both pairings, the play was not good, but it was very impressive for that individual dog.
  • The other dog involved should be getting regular interactions with dogs who -are- good at playing so that the less-skilled dog does not dissolve the social skills of both.
  • If in doubt, call dogs out of play.
  • The poor social-skilled dog should only be around dogs with very good social skills. We don't want him to learn bad manners.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


We've been getting a lot of rain.  That means boring leash walks or a dog that looks like this.  That's a muddy Griffin rolling in less-muddy grass.

And then multiply it by three dogs.  I can understand why people really like very very short haired dogs.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Halfway through the online class

Photo by Megan!
Unfortunately we're halfway through the online class we signed up for a few months ago.

The sections we've done so far are Play, Impulse Control, Shaping, and half of Heeling.

Play:  I always know I need to play more with my dogs, especially during training.  The class really made our weakest points stay out and six weeks later, we're still working to develop those areas... it's really the things haunting the rest of our training.  Griffin wants to/enjoys playing on his own and does not "drive" back to me, even when other reinforcers are available.  I'm really trying to repair this skill area!

Impulse Control:  The activities are things I've done with my own dogs, but not student dogs. Since this section, we've started doing these things in some of my classes. For motivated/skilled handlers, they're great activities...I don't know enough to teach this to less skilled handlers.  Again, we found huge weak areas in our training and things that I need to work on with Griffin. The two primary activities were a variation of the Susan Garrett "Its Your Choice."  and a release-to-bowl activity, similar-but-not to the "Race to Reward" in my most favorite agility training book (Agility Right From the Start). The problem was not the run to the bowl, but getting Griffin to run to me from near the bowl, getting the enthusiasm and speed even with the potential reinforcer behind him.   I've been using a lot of these activities in his training since then. We did one very memorable and great training sessions we did Go Outs, working up to someone "outside the ring" offering food, patting the ground, holding food.  And Griffin was great.  Some of the videos in this session were absolutely brilliant and things I wish everyone could see. Remarkable stimulus control, remarkable self control, and really, really 'clean' responses.   I really really hope I can get Griffin half-close to that!

Shaping:  I've done enough shaping before that this wasn't super hard... but incorporating play WAS very challenging.  And I discovered that I just haven't done enough shaping with him. I need to schedule more shaping into our weekly training plans.

Heeling:  Very similar to how I trained Griffin.  And as I commented on the class page, learning about this heeling a few years ago was really a changing point in my training.   Refining of shaping. Selecting ways that the "final" picture would be nothing like the training steps until you were ready....  so that you are not reinforcing "incorrect" responses as part of the training.    It's really good to see the others in the group learn the heeling. I'm doing a bit of repair work and introducing right side heeling.    One of the details I've noticed again recently is head position. Many dogs have a head-turned-to-handler position, especially clickerly dogs. Griffin's head is only slightly turned in, though it is pointing up.  When he's stopped he always puts his head straight, but pointing up.  

Overall Class Notes:
This is really great. I think it's a wonderful foundation class and it would be good for so many of my enthusiast students/friends.  It seems kind of simple that there's only a few assignments for each two week period, but, really, it allows you to focus a lot on those things and really spend your time there.  I'm often wishing I had more time in between.   If another, more advanced, class is offered, I definitely will be interested! I really, really wish we had semi-local people with a similar training style and more opportunities to learn this type of clicker training.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A ten year project

I was correct...Blaze did finish his APDT Rally Level 1 title last month!

10.5 years of training and we finally completed something!

The funny thing is, I've spent more hours training him than Luna and Griffin together (and probably multiplied by 10).  What's different?

The primary difference is that I'm not quite as enthusiastic about training as I used to be.  When Blaze was young, I would spend hours and hours every day working on various training projects.  I still enjoy training... but not that much.  Now I "get" it and would much rather spend my time on the more interesting challenge of teaching other people to train their dogs.  

Another difference is that I'm more experienced and more efficient.  I can make better training plans and better predictions of what will or will not work.  It just takes less time to train a behavior or task, and to train it to a higher level than what Blaze learned.

The other difference.... Griffin is a normal dog.  Luna is more "normal" than Blaze.  Per the veterinary neurologist a few years ago...Blaze probably has some sort of brain lesion that is impacting his behavior/learning (as well as a cause of his seizures).   Dogs with normal brain function learn better than dogs with abnormal brain functioning.

Blaze wanted to play with the ribbon rather than pose...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Additional Benefits of Training

Griffin's relatives are very, very busy and it's been an overall very successful year for "the family." High level accomplishments in agility, obedience, field work, and tracking.

In an email his breeder sent out this week, she talked a little about the "richness" that the dog sports and training and activities add to our dog's lives, as well as to the people involved.

There's the change in behavior that can be useful/practical for daily use, but there's also the physical and mental activity, giving the dogs a chance to do doggy-things, to go places and do things (off property experiences can be helpful for preventing some types of behavior problems!), and more.

With my experience, it's really been a very different relationship between myself and the first dogs I knew and my dogs now. Through training and those types of interactions, it's created a very different relationship.

And even on the short term, there have been a few dogs at the shelter that have a -very- different relationship with me after training.  Previously, people were for feeding and opening doors and anything else involving thumbs.  Now these dogs are soliciting interaction and demanding to something with people.
Here's one of the dogs a few days ago. If I'm working another dog nearby, she stands with her nose pressed through the fence, getting as close as she can, hoping I'll do something. Occasionally she offers a sit or a down or a bark.   She used to just go off and do her own thing, ignoring people.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Another Public Event : Pet Care Day

We went to do demos and talk with people at a "Pet Care Day" event.  It was held at a fitness center, and much to our surprise, we were inside rather than outdoors!

Griffin, as always, was great.  We didn't have a lot of space and we did have a lot of people passing by very close.  He worked for three hours, showing off his heeling, stays, and tricks. Towards the end, he was definitely tired and much more happy about the stays.

We talked to many people about agility, training dogs before a new baby is in the home, and dogs who bark on leash.  There were also a lot of golden retriever related questions. Everyone thought Griffin was a puppy!

I've been thinking he looks much more mature and like an adult....but maybe I've just imagined it.  It was interesting that so many people thought he was wild and "hyper." I thought he was being a fairly normal dog, wiggly and soliciting attention. If they saw him running in the fields.....I have no idea what they would say!

It wasn't as fun as the kids camps...but we definitely had a great time. I only wish I could provide him with these types of experiences every day.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Respecting Professional Boundaries

Second theme of the week!

I get together with a trainer friend at a local park. It's amazing to have someone nearby to work with on such a regular basis.  We meet a couple times a week and it's just so great to get me out and working and to have help.  We tend to see the same people come to the park.  The group of joggers. The people emptying the trash. And someone else who stops by every morning on an errand.  After a few months, this person stopped to greet us and ask a question.    

The person works at peoples homes....and one place recently added a very (very) large breed dog to the home. The dog would growl and bark and be unfriendly towards this person and other visitors. The owners had been notified. The person would bring dog treats and wanted tips. I stepped in with something like, "You must have the owner keep the dog put away while you are there. It is not safe."  The person said that they'd had a conversation..... and that the dog had pinned him against a wall before.   "You need to insist that the dog is put away.  That is not safe for you. It's not good for the dog to be stressed either, tell the owners you're worried about the dog.  If they want help, they can call us. Otherwise, be safe."   

We haven't seen the person since then, but I sincerely hoped he took our advice.   Why didn't I give training tips or mention how bad it is to be hand feeding treats to a nervous dog?
1) Liability.   There was nothing in place to keep me safe and it's not a safe situation.
2) The owners were not on board.  The primary caretaker has to be on the same page.
3) This person has good intentions! Going out of his way to buy treats!  I want to prevent the person from having more bad experiences with dogs.
4) Safety!!   A dog that is pinning someone against a wall should not be loose while there are visitors. It's just not safe.
5) Multiple concerns. It's not just with this one person, but all visitors. There are likely other anxiety issues as well.

This week, on a few discussion lists there was talk of food and nutrition, and visitors in households not treating dogs well and rescue groups asking for help in situations where a veterinarian should be involved.

Most dog trainers very much have a "helping-people-thing," and really do want to help.  And in such an un-regulated field, we aren't always good at policing ourselves and knowing whether or not we cross lines is impossible when the lines aren't well defined.    This year I've heard a few really great examples of trainers who understand the lines and a few examples of people who weren't aware there are things a trainer should not do or say.   It'll be interesting to see how this changes in the future.  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enthusiasm as Part of Your Criteria

This week we had a training group discussion about building enthusiasm and having it as part of your criteria for behaviors.  I definitely intentionally do a lot of this.

When Blaze was young, I was constantly trying to suppress his behaviors and enthusiasm, but  I did learn to direct it in agility. This resulted in a LOT of distance, a LOT of obstacle focus and him learning to work away from me to access reinforcers.

With Luna, Griffin and most student dogs, I try to build that enthusiasm, and keep it.  And direct enthusiasm appropriately rather than suppress unwanted expressions of the enthusiasm (jumping up, mouthing, barking, etc).It's hard to do with the dogs who are very wild and very shy, and especially for the novice handler.

One of the best moments in class was when we had a group of students working together.  One dog staying, another walking past, and then switching roles.  One student who is great at encouraging and directing behavior. The dog was very focused on the handler, they were running past the other team.  If the dog did get distracted or broke his stay, the handler would quickly be calling the dog back and using a higher rate of reinforcement.  The other team was also new to dogs and very uncomfortable if the young dog jumped up. THIS handler would "off off! Get down! Stop Barking!" and constantly trying to 'make' the dog work properly.   Initially the handler was horrified by the other team who had great work and speed and enthusiasm.  But as class went on, the wild-dog handler started to imitate the other team.  She was finally able to see that the dog could still be running and working well YET be focused and working. It's not one or the other!

An area where this can be hard is with precise behaviors.  In an effort to get the dog to be careful, the humans slow down, the dog then slows down and then the behavior is very slow.  Some trainers say that speed is a later criteria and comes after experience and confidence.  But there are many behaviors were the fast behavior is physically very different than the slower variation. If you train get slow.    

An important concept for the dog to learn is speed and enthusiasm. If you get a few behaviors with speed and enthusiasm, it's easier to transition this to some others, and even all work.  This can become an underlying piece of criteria.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"How Important is it to You?"

In basic training classes, this is one of the questions I ask about each of the problem areas.

Example 1: 
Client: My dog jumps on me every time  I step over the gate into that part of the house! But he doesn't jump up on my husband!
Me: How important is it to you that the behavior stops?
Client:  I don't mind it, it's great.
Me: If you don't mind it, we are not going to address it. But think through this!

Example 2:
Client: My dog digs in the yard!
Me: How important is it to you that the digging stops?
Client: SO SO important! He's ruining my yard!!
Me: For two weeks we need to completely eliminate any chance of practicing the behavior while we do re training.  Your dog will be on leash in the yard or completely engaged in an activity such as training or fetch games, as well as
Client: I can't do that! I have to put him out to go to the bathroom. I'm not taking him out on leash.
Me: How important is it to you that the digging stops?
Client: It HAS to stop.
Me: It's up to you. If you want it to stop, we can't let him have fun and practice the digging.  If you want to let him out alone, he may dig for fun or for something to do. Every time he does it, he gets better at it and the behavior is harder to change. It's your choice. If you want it to stop, you know the start to plan.

Example 3: 
Client: We need to train leave it! My puppy gets into the trash!
Me: Theoretically we can train that.  Due to safety though, it's best to put the trash in a contained area or get a tightly sealed trash can.  What if your dog ever makes a mistake and eats something dangerous. could spend a long time on that training, or use that time teaching something else.   Your choice.
Client: That's what I was thinking.

It's always interesting to see what is important.  In my household, it's not important that my dog is quiet when someone knocks at the door. We don't have a lot of visitors and we don't have nearby neighbors.  I don't mind my dogs going out the door without a release.  But I do want nice walking in public, I do want my dogs lying on the floor while I eat, and I do want them to focus when asked.

Monday, November 7, 2011

APDT Trial

A week ago I took Blaze and Griffin to a run at an APDT trial.  Blaze is not a young dog anymore and I gave him too much of a warm up.  But, even without the bonus exercise (I'm not letting go of his leash!), we passed and I think he completed his RL1, we'll find out when the paperwork is processed.

Griffin....had a lot more trouble. We ended up asking to leave the ring.  He did the sets of stationary signs fairly well....but the in-between heeling was miserable, we tried to fake our way through it, but I just couldn't do it.

He did pretty well during the warm up, was excited about the close quarters and he did some barking (as well as getting barked at).  

As a result?  More training. We'll try to find a way to get to run throughs. I'd like to get in classes at different locations, but I don't know if that's possible.   More get-out-of-the-car-work-and-leave   And similar type things.

Since then, he's been doing really well in all the training we've done.      

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Positive Retriever Training Book!

I heard about this book only about two weeks ago.  I impatiently waited, and ordered it as soon as the website was up and running.   My book arrived!

The only drawback?   It's written in French.   Lucky for me, I can read it well enough to get through...with the help of google translate.   "Puppy" "Training" "Ducks" and "Heartworm" are not words typically taught in French classes.....

Le Chien Rapporteur de A à Z comes with a DVD too!  Even though it recommends reading the book before/along with the video, I'm cheating and skipping ahead to watch.   The reading is super slow going (but getting faster the more I read and learn the dog vocabulary).

I'll admit I'm biased towards liking it because the guy has goldens and so the photos and video are goldens!

A few quick things I've noticed:   Lots of praise and food use (sounds like dry biscuits or kibbles from the crunching!).  Lots of petting and affection (face licking frm the dog, patting on the top of the head and shoulders from the human).

The video shows things going well and moments where the dog doesn't respond and working through those situations (replacing the dog in a stay, re-cueing the dog to go out, etc).  Much of the outdoor video is shown from two angles...which is nice

The biggest differences in our training (other than the big, and obvious, differences of his successes at different events and in hunting!) are that I don't do as much luring and prompting and I get a higher fluency level before moving on.  Maybe I don't need as much precision as I've been aiming for and maybe our nitpicking early on is holding us back?
I. Don't. Really. Want. To.Hold. It. But. I. Will.  
I can't wait to get through the book and start utilizing the exercises.

Friday, November 4, 2011

(Not) Solving Big Non-Training-Specific Problems

These have been some of the 'big picture' problems for the last few weeks. 

General Public Perception of Animal Needs/Welfare and Reality:  I do know these are often different and it's creating problems for the animals in the family and for the animals in the community.  

Professional Standards for Trainers: Both in regards to teaching and training....and general business practices too.  Many people do a great job.....   but as the 4-H motto says...we need to "make the best better"

Efficiency in Training and Teaching:  How can we use our class times best?  How do we help people get the progress they want and need.  

Trainer Programs:  Some are great. Some aren't as good for...some purposes.  How do we help people find appropriate programs for their goals? What kinds of things result in someone "understanding" training and why some take longer?   I know some people who take years and years and work so hard...and others who just get it in a matter of weeks or months.  What's different?  

Luring and Shaping: When is it better to use one or the other? What are the differences in behavior aquisition, reliability, and shape of the behaviors?  

Exploring Good Training:  Why are clickerly dogs doing well in some areas of competition more than others?  What's missing or different or...needs to change? How can we get more interest, more participation, more successes?

Almost Perfect Websites:  Some of my favorite informational websites...are no longer favorites. I re-read the sites and found some serious  and surprising advice/information/contributions that I just don't want clients to read and I can't believe it was added to the site! Why!