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 list...it'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 starts...you 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!