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  Typically I really don't like those types of books because they're a little...non sciency and outdated and illogical and more opinion than based than of anything else.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!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wild Puppy Moments

Many of my clients have adolescents or puppies. Most of those have a regular complaint of the puppy going wild, either in the house (often in the evening) or on walks. The puppy runs around, tail between his legs, as fast as he can, frenzied, sometimes jumping and nipping at people as he passes.  This lasts a few minutes at a time and it's almost impossible for them to stop the puppy.

First things:
  • This is normal puppy behavior. Some dogs do it even as adults.  It does not mean your puppy is broken or wild or evil.  
  • We can reduce it and teach your puppy appropriate ways to express himself.  
  • In 10-12+ years when your dog is a senior with increasingly limited mobility, you will say "I would do anything to see him do that again."   Smile and enjoy it.
Second things:
  • Note patterns. Most puppies do this at a specific time of day or specific location on walks.
  • Find appropriate ways for your puppy to run wild. Maybe this is in the yard playing fetch or setting up a playtime with a dog friend, or playing recall games at the park.
  • Make decisions with your family about how much you will limit this behavior. Maybe not in the house but it's okay outside. Maybe in the yard, but not on walks.
Third things:
  • Walks:  Often this will happen at specific locations or with specific triggers.  If you aren't feeling so great or if you are wanting to train an alternate behavior, avoid this area/those triggers for now.  Luna will always start doing laps around me at a specific location. If I'm not up for it, we don't walk there. If you absolutely must walk through/past the area/triggers, start a Treat Transport (constant nibbling of a treat in your hand, practice at home, from my favorite book) -before- you're at the trouble area.  For Luna, that would start 30' before The Area.  Continue for a safe distance past before giving a few treats and continuing on the walk.
  • Encourage it: If the timing is appropriate, use this behavior! It never lasts long.  Think of how you and your dog will feel if you're doing this together rather than battling each other.  With Luna, I would say "RUN RUN RUN" as I walked in a circle and she went around me.  Sometimes I would encourage her to change direction or freeze in position, getting a response freeze from her and she would dart off again.  If your puppy is mouthy, pull out a toy.
Prevent It:
  • In the house, with small kids, this can be very inappropriate.  We often see the running wild in the evenings as the family settles  It's really annoying for most families.
  • Provide exercise and entertainment 30 minutes before the normal "wild time.".  Meet your puppy's exercise/energy needs ahead of time. 
  • Provide structure and feedback on what to do.  Maybe while you're watching TV, be feeding your puppy his dinner, a few pieces at a time, for lying at your feet.  Start out with a stream of treats and then gradually slow down the stream.
  • Prevent access:  Before run-wild time, put your puppy in his crate with a great chew toy.  This isn't a punishment, it's a preventative measure. In some households, this is a key to preventing frustration with the puppy and to prevent the puppy from practicing inappropriate behaviors. Some puppies are wild when they are tired and don't know how to settle themselves. 
If your puppy have a few options:
  • Encourage it: With your voice, body language, and toys.  They can't keep it up for long. Your dog will enjoy this time with you and only be more interested in you in the future.  
  • Leave the room: Not as a punishment, but to prevent the humans from reinforcing the behavior. The yelling, grabbing, pushing, and having clothing to nip can all be things puppies love.  If you are inaccessible and non responsive, your puppy won't be getting further enjoyment.  The wild-ness will run it's course and your puppy will likely soon settle.
  • Stop it:  If there's a true reason (glass on the floor, elderly visitor just arrived, ?), toss a handfull of really great treats on the floor in front of your puppy as he is passing. He will stop to eat them. Grab his collar. Let him eat a few more. And then Treat Transport him to his crate. The intent is not to punish him, but to put him in a safe place for the moment.   Yes, throwing treats at him may reinforce the behavior.  But if it is truely important to stop him, this is probably the safest, fastest, and least confrontational strategy.  If you are having to do this more than once every 7-10 days, you will need to revisit your training and management plan.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Griffin learning about eye drops

Griffin doesn't appreciate grooming/vet type handling.  He has always been cautious about handling and it got a lot worse preceding Lyme disease being diagnosed.  Those exams were very painful and uncomfortable for him.

Here's a quick video showing how happy he is about eye drops.  We've done the training steps a few times before, but even the first time it was very similar to in this video. He has such a great "sticky target" and he's learned to stay touching while I brush, pet, and poke at him that the eye drops were just another part of the activity.

He is always allowed to move away, but he doesn't usually choose that option. He wants to keep working and to get more treats.

For a dog who doesn't have a good sticky touch already trained, I would do similar steps with holding the dog under the muzzle (gently and always letting him pull away if needed).

A few years ago, we had a puppy at the shelter who went blind just a few days after arriving. It ended up being some unusual medical condition and she needed twice-daily eye drops.  She couldn't see the volunteers approaching or know what was going to happen so it was always a surprise to be grabbed and then have "horrible" things done to her.  Especially as she was already a puppy, she got extremely mouthy and many of the volunteers did not like to handle her or they were scared of her.  With a few training sessions and with warming up the eye drops by putting them in a pocket (they were stored by a window, in the winter they got cold and made her even more upset), she was much improved.  The shelter raised funds, she had surgery and was able to see again, and was eventually adopted by a veterinary student.  Last I heard, she was going on long drives between family here and the university far away. She was hiking and exploring and going to dog parks and a really great dog despite being a naughty puppy.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How to Practice: Getting the most out of your training

In group classes we talk about how to practice. I first give a general set of tips and then we talk about efficient training.

  • Use great treats.
  • Work on one thing at a time.
  • Many short sessions a day are better than one or two long sessions.
  • Any sessions are better than no sessions.
  • Training sessions can last 15 seconds or a few minutes
  • After a few minutes, take a break for petting or play. If you want to keep training you can go back to the same behavior or something different.
  • Start each session at a "point of success"
When I started training Blaze, we would practice everything he knew, sometimes every day.  Now, my training sessions look very different. Good training is not running through everything once or twice, that doesn't give the repetition that a dog needs to learn.  However, there are times to do everything just a few times.  1) For some people, after a bad day it can make you feel better to see all the amazing things your dog can do. 2) You can show off how smart your dog is to friends or family.

So what does a purposeful training session look like?   You pick one aspect to work on.  You work for no more than 3-4 minutes. You take a break with your dog and evaluate your progress.  This will help you get from point A to point B in your training and make the most of your limited time.

Here's an example from training Griffin to stand. 
What we have: He could stand readily on a visual cue. He does not know a word for standing.
Session 1: Warm him up by reinforcing a few non-cued (offered) stands.  Use a treat to get him back into the Down (because we do not want to work on the down right now).  Add the word right as he stands.  
What happened:  It went fast and by 4-5 repetitions he was responding to the word!

Session 2: Warm him up with a few cued repetitions and then start to vary my position. Rather than being in front of him, I would stand a step to the side, the other side, back, hands up, holding something.
What happened: It went really well unless I was 3 steps away. Then he would Sit rather than stand.  I only did two repetitions and moved on to other types of challenges.

Session 3: Warm him up with a few repetitions right in front of me.  Every few repetitions I would move back by 1/2 a step (rather than the full steps I used in the previous session).
What happened: We worked up to 4 steps away.

Griffin says "Leaping is more fun than standing."
Each session lasted 60-90 seconds.  We made unusually fast progress with this behavior. It was helped because he already knew how to stand (on a different cue, a hand signal) and because he knew how to stand stay.   

Friday, February 10, 2012

Take Ten Minutes

This week I've heard several really horrible stories of dogs escaping from yards or homes.  Leashes breaking. Each situation could have been preventable.  Each time, the people knew better but fell into the easy habit of "It's been fine, I'll do it later."

Take the ten minutes to fix that hole in your fence that's been there for months.  Or take ten minutes to take your dog out on leash rather than letting him into your yard. He hasn't escaped yet, but this could have been the day. Take some time to install an extra lock or latch on your gate. Check your fence for holes or loose boards.

Take ten minutes to put the good leashes and treats in an easy access place rather than using your "second level"*, less preferred, leashes.  Go to the store and get another leash if yours is getting frayed or is half chewed through.   Get rid of that bone your dog has chewed into an almost-too-small shape rather than leaving it out for one more time.
A too small bone!

*taking an excellent Kathy Sdao phrase and applying it here...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Creating a List of Accomplishments

It's really easy to remember all the horrible stuff your dog has done.  Those events can make you sad, angry, frustrated, or even laugh about it now. At family or friend gatherings people love to tell the "my dog did something worse" stories.  We don't tell as many "my dog is the best" stories, they're not quite as entertaining.

We introduced the List of Accomplishments in the first round of Shy Dog Class and just got to that part in our second Shy Dog Class.  Students are prompted to write out a list of all the really great things their dog has done/learned since being in their home.  

Being calm while kids are playing. Making an appearance during a family gathering. Settling on a mat during a family dinner. Going for a happy walk. Not barking at the sudden appearance of a person.

For my own shy dog, things like "jumping on visitors" are on her list.  It was an important moment when she finally felt safe enough to enthusiastically go up to a visitor.

It's important that we have these lists so we can monitor our progress and keep working towards further accomplishments.  When our dog has a bad day, or when we have a bad day, we want to be able to reference this list instead of the easily-remembered not-so-great lists!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The cost of selecting the wrong dog trainer

I see a lot of dogs. People typically want the best for their dogs, but they're not always in a position to know what "best" may be.  They aren't the professionals in the situation and their perspective is very different than that of someone in an 'expert' role.

At the best end of things, the person just adopted the dog or had only done a few basic classes by the time they're directed to a vet behaviorist.  After the appointment, (and often meds), the dog is able to learn better, do better, and actually progress in class and at home. The downside is the time, money, and frustration that the family unnecessarily experienced up to that point.

At the worst end of things, the family only does a consult after a lot of training or trainer shopping and after the dog has experienced some pretty horrible things at the hands of people who are often not all that skilled with various ...interesting....punishment strategies (whether intentional or not).  The human-animal bond is often damaged.  And it takes a lot more time, training, and effort to get everyone to start progressing.
As a puppy, Luna was anxious, lacking confidence,
had housetraining problems, and no trainers addressed
these  concerns.

And sometimes the cost is higher. By the time the family is seeking more help, the family may not have the patience, time, or money to actually work with the right professional and follow through with treatment.  The family might feel like training won't work because the five other trainers resulted in no real success.

The dog may go untreated for months, years, or life.  The dog may be regulated to excessive crating or kenneled in the backyard.  People, animals, or family members may be physically injured. The dog may be adopted out or euthanized. The family isn't going to feel so great about dogs for a really long time.  

This is why problem areas need to be addressed right away. Families need to know how to seek help, and where to seek help.  Beginning and less experienced trainers need to know when to refer.  Beginner/basic classes and puppy classes should be taught by the most experienced people possible, not those just learning (they should assist and learn!).  If problems are noted, the family needs to be pointed to the right help, right away.  Trainers need to attend/participate in continued education events so they're better able to help people. Vets need to ask leading questions to identify problem areas  ("How is he left home? How is house training?  Storms and fireworks? Are you seeing any training problem areas?").

It's not easy.

And some real numbers with Blaze:
Puppy class. And a second, third, fourth class.   Five or six sport classes.  A lot of books.  A few privates. Extra health tests.   And then to the vet behaviorist (4.5 hours away!).  Neurologist appointments.  So, after only about $1800ish of training (not counting the very $$ obstruction surgeries that didn't heal well even though the pica is probably related to his behavior challenges) we had our $300ish appointment. He was diagnosed and we received treatment options.

Blaze was labeled as a "Just needs more training." puppy.

If we had gotten the right help from puppy class, it would have saved a lot of time, money, energy frustration. He would probably  be a different dog than he is now, though not 'normal'.  We would have saved a lot of money, or at least gotten more for our money rather than many classes where he didn't progress and instructors berated us for not practicing.  I have family members, adults, who are afraid of Blaze. He's not an aggressive dog, just bigger and lacking self control.   Their relationship with him and all dogs has been damaged.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Online Class Review

Back in the fall we signed up for the first online dog training class I've ever taken.  The class was taught by Fanny Gott and lasted about four months.

It was the best training class I've ever taken.

Advantages of online classes:  You are able to show the instructor your best work. If your dog is having a bad day? Wait another day before taking your video.   You have plenty of time to ask your questions and process your thoughts.

Things I loved about this class specifically:    The training is just great.  I know I've mentioned before that a lot of the clicker training in Europe is just more proficient than most of what's being done in the US.  And this class is a great example.   The training plans are brilliant. Allowing the dog to be as prepared as possible before doing the competition behaviors.   Less incorrect approximations are reinforced.  And it's all just beautiful.   Not to mention Fanny and Thomas are successful in competition in a way that most clickerly people here are not.  And that really stands out to me.

Things I learned in this class:  The most obvious and most distressing and most important was that Griffin is too aroused while working.  I have got to get him to settle. I don't need to keep building up his enthusiasm, though I should work to maintain what we have and I should expand his abilities to be working well as he will not work in some environments. Our playing has improved 10 times.  This is helping all of our training.  We've learned some new self control games that I'm sometimes teaching in classes too ("Reversed luring" and a send to bowl game that Griffin --loves--).  This class was very, very good for us. It was great to see all the other dogs in the class, giving me more ideas on how to progress or on how it all fits together.

Now what?:  The next group just opened for registration.  I am attempting to use my self control to not sign up this time around.   We're in an online running contact class, but it's just not as fun as obedience!   I'm going to be reviewing our notes from class and continue to perfect our training/obedience exercises.  And then, I'm not sure.  We benefit from the help. I love obedience.  I'd like to finally be ready to start trialing in obedience and agility.

In review.... an online class is different from a real class.  The feedback is not immediate.  But the feedback is great, you have time to think about it. you can watch yourself work while reading and re-reading the feedback.  A good online class can be a fabulous option.  I'm definitely going to be taking more classes!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Looking at Success

There are a lot of books about success (and not) and looking at why certain individuals or groups of people are successful (or not).   I've been reading a lot of these over the last few months.   A few observations: (Other than that reading many books on the same subject means a lot of repetition):

1) A lot of practice is important.
2) Practicing the right things, and being efficient with practice, is important.
3) It's more about the right opportunities and practice than anyone being all that different or inherently exceptional.
4) It's important for challenges to be continually increased. The bar should always be set higher.

As I read, I think about this from different perspectives:  for myself, for my dogs, for my students, for my students who are enthusiasts/in sports classes, for my 4-H kids, and for the many instructors that I know.

Myself:  I know I've had a lot of practice.  The short version is that I had a lot of practice early on, it wasn't great practice but it wasn't bad either. I had opportunities to work with many species and I've been obsessive about animals for my whole life.   But I don't do as much practice as I used to.  I make use of my time at the shelter to maintain and improve training skills.   I continually work with my dogs.  I am now much more efficient with my training sessions.   In some ways I don't think I challenge myself enough (often taking the "easy route" in training), though my interest in various competition-type activities --does-- require me to continually work towards a high standard.

My Dogs: Griffin is 3.5.    When Blaze was 3.5, he probably had 10-25x the training hours Griffin has had.   Griffin is about a hundred times more proficient than Blaze. It's not just about Blaze's brain abnormality.   I've had higher standards with Griffin. My greater experience has allowed us to be more efficient.  We set out every training session with a specific goal (faster, straighter, closer, more still, higher, etc).  With Blaze, it was about getting a lot of sits in a row. I can also see the dangers (and damage) that result from practicing poorly or practicing the wrong things.  

My Human Students:  There are a lot of times when we do exercises specifically to let the people get the practice. We do things again and again and again. In some ways, I don't like "wasting" the time, but they do need to get into the habit and not everyone will work at home.  I am continually working to get the lessons to be more efficient, with more done in less time and to a higher degree of competency. I need to challenge this group more.

My Dog Students:  It's hard having two learners. Sometimes the dog is holding back the learning of the person, and sometimes it's the other way around. Again, it's a balance of challenging the team but also allowing enough repetition and time for them to get comfortable and competent with the skills.

Enthusiast Students:  They really like practicing. They don't always like (or think) to practice the stuff they should spend time on.  Sometimes it's harder to get these teams to practice efficiently or with good technique/skill.  They want to skip steps and shortcut. They can see the final picture but aren't always able to see what's required for each step in between. It's my job to challenge them at the right level and not let them get caught up in the big-picture goals.  Some of these teams have been in dogs for a really long time. I'm often amazed at the poor training many people (students or not) have been able to get away with and still have success...and I don't mean punishment.  Timing, setting criteria, reinforcement, training plans.    

4-H Kids:  This is a really interesting group.  It's easy to get them to practice some things.  Painfully hard to get them to see the importance of other things. We're on a limited time frame, meaning we shortcut some training steps or aren't competition-ready by competition day. But I do see many of them week after week for six or so months, every year for many years. It really gives me big-picture feedback on how our training plans are working. It also gets easy to fall into the patterns of doing the same activities again and again and not pushing that bar higher on a week to week basis.

Other Trainers:  I know a lot of dog trainers (the internet is amazing).  I have a lot of trainer friends.  I have many in classes or that I see on a regular basis.  I have some students who want to do teach. Without hesitation, I can say that I'm often rather concerned.  There are many professionals who need to spend some time training animals (teaching is a different skill set) as well as expanding their teaching and training skills.  Set the bar higher! Challenge!  I feel a lot of responsibility to help my trainer-friends. It's easier when they ask for help.  When they don't, it's a balance of finding ways that I can support or encourage them to keep working.

At a dog-enthusiast group dinner, some of this came up.  It was interesting to hear what others heard, experienced, or did.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Griffin's Dilemma

Griffin has many really great competition behaviors.  His real-life, daily-use behaviors are getting a little...rusty.    In a training context we can do some very excessive "proofing" exercises and he is almost 100% successful. When he makes errors, it's often to move -away- from the things he really wants.

Yesterday we worked on his directed jumping.  First a few to see how he was doing. Then with someone else telling us which jump to take.   And then with some proofing exercises.  Initially I had a helper hold him (so no stay to break).  He perceived that as a recall exercise and blasted straight to me.  Once I left him on stays, he was great and then only missed about 2 out of 20 repetitions over the day.  We ended up with people running around the ring and taking the jumps, standing in interested positions, and carrying items through his ring.  He barely looked away from me.  

He can do most of his competition exercises with some fairly extreme distractions.  Yet I do not think he's ready to trial.   In the moment of excessive distractions, Griffin very much knows that it's a trick and he only works harder.  

So what do we do?  Next week we'll do more repetitions with more subtle distractions.  We'll do more exercises or pieces before reinforcing.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Are you making progress?

For those in training classes, there are two people responsible for making sure there's progress.  The instructor and the student.  For those who are working on their own...  there's just one person to monitor progress!  It's important to be objectively monitoring any training process so that we can evaluate improvement. 

If you are seeing progress:
What's the rate of progress?  Can it be improved more? Do we need to set new goals?  What are your plans for maintaining what you've worked towards?

If you are not seeing progress:
  • Talk to your instructor.  I am always sad when I have students who are working with other professionals (trainers or vets) but are not seeing progress and have not discussed the lack of progress or additional concerns with that professional.   Utilize the resources available! Get some help.
  • Do you need to "break it down" into smaller parts?  Is the training plan not detailed enough?
  • Are you focusing on the right challenge?  Example:  When Luna is in class, she will often freeze up and stare at other people or dogs.  If I addressed this as an attention problem...I wouldn't see too much progress.  If I address this as a stressed/afraid dog challenge, we can work to resolve the underlying anxiety and then she will be able to focus on me.  
  • Look at the reinforcers:  What are you using? Is it actually reinforcing for your dog? Is there other reinforcement in the picture?  Example:  Young dog barking and pulling on the leash until he's allowed to meet the other dogs he sees during walks.  Now he does a lot of barking and pulling every single time he sees a dog.   The barking was reinforced with play!
  • How are you practicing?  Are you doing training exercises to address the challenges at hand?
  • How is your management?  Is your training being compromised at other times of day?
Monitoring student progress: 
I make notes about dogs in group classes. The notes include a listing of the goals the family specified and a list of my goals for the dog/family. These are not usually the same!    Each week I can add a few more things to the list or cross of those things we accomplished.  We prioritize based off of the things that impact living with the dog and the human-animal bond.  When students are not seeing progress, we can talk about what's going on. If they aren't working at home....then I'm not too worried. If they are practicing every day, then maybe the dog needs to see a veterinary professional, maybe the team needs a different learning style, or maybe we need to address some of the training skills.   For teams who are complaining yet not practicing, we can talk about why and how we can change things.  Some people learn better through reading. Some are great in class but can't remember a few days later.   

Monitoring our progress: Luna in agility class
About three years ago, I noted that Luna really wasn't making progress in agility class. We were still facing the same challenges we had been working on for over six months (focus, nervous with the teeter, speed).  I decided that we would take some time off to do some training on our own and then we would return to class. It ended up that while we both missed class, it wasn't reinforcing enough for me to head back soon with the hour drive each way and then bathing my dog most weeks (dirt arena.... great to run on. Not great with a longhaired dog!) We've worked on our own and have made improvements with her challenge areas and directly addressed her anxiety with veterinary help.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two myths about crating/housetraining

I hear these a lot, especially from experienced dog owners and it's common internet-advice.  There's some truth to the statements, but there is enough danger that it is important to be cautious.  There are exceptions to every rule.

Never let a barking puppy out of his crate!
The piece of truth:  If the puppy/dog is barking to get out of the crate or to get attention, the approach and release from the crate will reinforce the barking.  The dog will learn to bark to get let out.  If you wait a while and then decide to let him out, you teach the puppy/dog to bark longer or with greater intensity.
The big picture truth:     It's not appropriate to let a dog/puppy bark for a long period of time, especially if it is a very distressed barking or if there is anxiety.  It's inhumane to let a dog be screaming and vocalizing out of distress.   Many new dog or puppy owners are not able to tell the difference between "I want out!" and "I think the world is ending" barks.    If you let an attention-seeking puppy out for barking.... he will bark more.   If you continue to ignore a seriously distressed puppy, you could be creating bigger problems.  
What to do:  Be preventative.  Don't let the dog or puppy get to the point where he is barking and/or distressed.  Gradually work up to teaching him to be contained. If you have to be gone, -beforehand- test out other containment strategies. This could be an exercise pen or a small room with gates/doors.   If you -know- your dog is bad in the crate....we need to gradually work up to him being contained.  Consult an appropriate professional.

My puppy is peeing in his crate. I need a smaller crate!
The piece of truth: Most puppies to not like to sit in their pee. Many do not eliminate in their bed area.
The big picture piece of truth:  Take your puppy out more often. If you have a puppy who doesn't mind sitting in his pee (...seems more common with some shelters and pet store puppies)...use the biggest crate you can. He has the -option- of sitting somewhere else.  With a small crate, he has no choice.  With these puppies you have to be extra diligent about the trips outside and reinforcement.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Management is under appreciated.

And it's a hard concept.  For all problem-solving situations we discuss management, whether it's something more serious like separation anxiety/distress or reactive/aggressive behaviors or less-serious-but-still-annoying things like jumping on visitors and pulling on leash.

Management is not the same as training. Training will resolve or minimize the challenges.  But training doesn't (usually) happen overnight.  In the meantime, we need ways to prevent the dog from practicing the behavior. Every time he practices the behavior, it may grow stronger and the training may be set back.

Here are a few of the management techniques we use.  Note...these are not complete training plans!
Food toy management!

Racing out the door:

  • Create an "airlock" so the dog can't escape.  
  • Put a note on the door to remind family to crate the dog before opening the door.
  • Leash at the door to put on before opening the door.
  • Treat scatter in the house before walking out (with or without the dog following)
  • Tether or crate nearby.
  • Note on the door to have visitors/family to call before opening the door. The dog can be closed elsewhere before the door is opened.
  • Harness or head halter so the handler doesn't "give" as much if the dog pulls.
  • On leash walks in the yard or near the house rather than the usual route.
  • Walk at less distraction times.
  • Exercise the dog differently until the walking training is further along.
  • Treat transport (from Agility Right From the Start)
  • Distance from the distractions
Jumping up on people and counters during meal preparations
  • Crate, doors, tether elsewhere
  • Family member teaching the dog to stay (the human works as a MannersMinder)
  • Food toys during meal preparation.

The hardest part is convincing people that this management is just as crucial as the training.   I'm always sad when I hear dog people or professionals talking about how management is just a stepping stone and not appropriate forever and how horrible pet owners are for using management forever. I'm typically okay with management forever. I sometimes encourage it.  The family is the one to decide their priorities.  It's better to practice management than to let the dog practice the undesired behavior. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much someone can work on.  

MannersMinder management!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

January Thoughts

1) We've had a lot of really, really warm days.  40-60* out.  This is kind of unusual for this time of year.  I'm still counting down the days until spring -really- starts in March.

2) Normally this is a slow time of year for animal-service related businesses.  With people making big holiday purchases, typically there is less spent on the "extra" things of pet services. Less travel after the holidays, until spring break, makes it a slow time for boarding kennels.   Surprisingly, we've had a -lot- of class sign ups this week.  I had to get out of bed and make a few additional plans before I could sleep last night.  The Tuesday class is looking to be giant.

3) Efficiency is important to me.  Working on a few behaviors with Griffin, I'm struggling to find the "in between" steps for where we are and where we need to be. This isn't usually a problem, but for once it is a huge issue. It will be interesting to see what solutions we come up with.

4) Dog resources:  There are a million books, DVD's, websites, and everything available. It's overwhelming for me.  And probably worse for people who are new to dogs.

5) Lack of resources:  Yet, I haven't found a basic training book that I love.  Things are too long or too opinionated or too weird or too punishment focused despite a positive label and description.

Puppy Griffin!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Record Keeping :: Current system for my dogs.

Because I'm working with multiple dogs for multiple activities and I have to keep tracking of training for students, 4-H'ers, and shelter dogs.... I can't "just remember" everything.  Every few months I change my record keeping system to make it more efficient and more useful.  

For about 24 months I've been fairly diligent and at various points tracked different things as well (time exercising, grooming, crating, etc).  

Right now I have my very favorite system that I've been using for three months now.   Every month I create a sheet for each dog with an outline of the behaviors/aspects we will be working on and a blank column where I will note the date and a tally of the number of sessions on that behavior. There are a few blank spots so I can add in a few more things and for classes where we will be assigned activities. Here's a sample:

(It wants to be can see it here)
These are taped up to the wall. On the dry erase board I make notes about additional skills that I may add to next month's list.

On a daily basis, I update the charts and I make a super-short journal type entry about sessions. I keep these online so that they are easily searchable (unlike written records).  

At the end of the month, the charts allow me to have a great overview of what we've done, what we didn't do, and how to change things for the next month.  If we completely did not work on something I either remove it the following month or break it down into more achievable/specific pieces.    I also do an end of the month short summary write-up for the dogs and this allows me to spend a little longer thinking about what we did and did not do and how on-track we may be for our goals.  

Improvements over the previous system:  Before I was just doing the journal entry and had a running list of things to work on.  Sometimes we would go weeks without working on "important" skills or we would spend hours on behaviors that we don't really need.   The charts are really nice because I can easily have an overview and I can prioritize and see our progress towards goals.   Now I can see it all, first thing every day.

Future changes?:   I feel like I'm always adding more to my "to do" list rather than crossing things off.  I'll want to make a few modifications to be sure we're getting to those things.    I want to simplify the form for my 4-H'ers (who often are doing multiple activities, obedience, showmanship, rally, and agility).  But at the moment, I'm quite happy with how the system is working and how it's focusing us.

Winter Classes

Many pet-related services see a drop off in clients/customers during January/February.  Everyone is getting back to school and work after the holidays and they're a little more hesitant to spend money when they've just been through the holidays.  As it starts getting warmer in March, services often pick up (boarding kennels with spring break travels, groomers with "spring haircuts").

Interestingly....we've seen an increase in class sign-ups in the last week.   Most of the classes I teach are on-going enrollment, meaning that students can start that week.   We had two "fixed start date" classes start last night, a class for shy dogs and a class focusing on walking and settling with distractions.

This time around, the dogs in ShyDog class are more outgoing than the first group.  We have one dog repeating the class and three new dogs.   I've already adapted the class quite a bit from the first time we offered it last fall.  We're focusing more on handler skills than dog skills now, and hopefully this leads to better application at home and then more improvement.  We're still keeping a lot of the same activities, but we're adding in more intermediate steps, specific homework, and group participation.
Luna looking like a shy dog in 2008  We were at a state park in... PA?
The trails were very rocky and steep. I was scared of the slippery steep path....
she was worried about the people we passed.

Luna and I get to be in the Focus/Distraction class, she was incredibly happy and loved the young border collie were paired with.  Sometimes I feel like she's ready to go back to agility class. And at other times, it seems like I just barely have control.   She was getting tired so I switched out partway through.  I intended to let Blaze have a turn but he's not feeling good after crashing into walls during a fetch game on Tuesday....     Griffin got to work and I'm always surprised at how well he does in a group environment for the -very- small amount of group class time he has worked.   The other dogs and people weren't a challenge at all and he's really quite reliable in a class setting.  It's almost like the presence of the other dogs and people are a cue for him to have more self control and to be working harder with me.
In other news.... early last year I was really excited about the great seminars for the year.  Somehow, this year is even better!  Everything seems really far away, but in reality it's going to go by incredibly fast.  I can't wait until there are details to share!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Luna will never be a herding dog...

Sometimes I feel bad that Luna doesn't get a chance to do breed-specific activities like Blaze and Griffin do.  She's not interested in retrieving or swimming.  

And she's also not interested in herding.

Luna's been getting more freedom over the last few months. But sometimes I misjudge her current abilities.  Yesterday she took a little adventure into one of the occupied cow pastures.  She enjoyed the great smells (and snacks....).  

Cows are very curious.  Angus cattle are notorious for being "protective" and many people consider them to be more "aggressive" than some other cow breeds.   

A few cows watched while eating hay.   The calves cautiously approached Luna.  Then Luna looked up and noticed.   She did a play bow. Spinning in a circle.  Then another bow before happily prancing away.  I've also seen her playbow and offer play solicitation behaviors to 2,000lb bulls....   Maybe she would be different with sheep or ducks....but knowing her, I highly doubt it.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Working Towards Succcess

Last night some of us had another sad "Why can't our dogs do more," moment.  

It's fun (well, maybe not "fun", but enjoyable? Reinforcing?) to complain.  In this circumstance, it's also helpful to think about -why- we're at this point.

A few variables:

  • Some, out of habit and/or necessity are spending more time on behavior challenges than training towards competition behaviors.  This is understandable, but obviously can impact what's being trained.
  • Many in the sports are highly attracted to the people who are currently successful, seemingly regardless of methods.  It's great to learn from everyone and take what you can.   But it doesn't always fit together well.
  • Lack of motivation to work towards a goal.  Have big goals, work with urgency!  Use time wisely.  Improve training skills.
  • Lack of local mentors.  So....let's not stay local.  Find the best people you can get to help you. Learn from them as much as you can.   
  • Working together:  Be around others with similar goals.  This helps with ideas, motivation, and getting things done.
  • It's easy to fall into what has always been done. Watch so we don't fall into  that pattern.

We're still using last year's wintery pictures. Today we have a tiny bit snow which is hopefully enough to decrease the amount of mud!    I love all the Griffin-running pictures.   He loves to run.  We're now also taking an online class for Running Contacts.  (Note the above...   "Find the best people you can get to help you. Learn from them as much as you can.")     Hopefully this resolves the dogwalk and improves the aframe so we can soon start to trial.