Archive for February, 2009

“Unleashed” Again

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I’ve been meaning to follow up on my original blog post Unleashed on the class that Micah and I are enrolled in, but just hadn’t gotten to it.

The class has been going pretty well, for the most part. We’ve done some interesting exercises. As I explained earlier, in our first week we basically worked on getting our dogs attention while working in a gated “box”. If our dog was doing well, someone might approach a little (on the outside of the gate) to see if our dog could continue working, and stay in their “comfort zone”.

cuagain

Since then we have also had dogs working on opposite sides of a single gate, walking back and forth together. The gate serves as a visual barrier for them, while allowing them to work surprisingly close. For a reactive dog, this is harder than you might think.

walking the gate

We’ve had handlers approaching each other, meet in the middle, and then continue on.

c.u.meet in the middle

We’ve had dogs use a tunnel or a jump to get a little revved up, and then go to their mat to ramp it back down. (The mat is used as a calming zone for the dog).

krash & syd

There are lots of different things going on at any one time during class. While some people are working with an instructor and/or another dog and handler team, others are working on maintaining eye contact, or doing relaxation exercises. The point is to be able to work while there are lots of other dogs and people around, and still stay under their “I’m going to lose it” threshold.

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I would highly recommend this class for anyone who needs their dog to have a little more self control, focus and general calmness.

What Kind of Trainer Are You?

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

There is a saying, that whenever you and your dog are both awake, either you are training him, or he is training you. Even if you don’t think you are technically a “dog trainer”, your dog is constantly learning from you. The method you use to teach him will have a huge impact on how your dog learns, and on the relationship between the two of you.

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It amazes me how much controversy there still is in the world of training. There are the “operant” people (using positive methods) and the “compulsion” people. One of the definitions of compulsion in the dictionary is: A psychological and usually irrational force that makes somebody do something, often unwillingly.

As many of you know, I started out as a compulsion trainer, since it was pretty much the only method being taught back then. I finally ended up quitting obedience altogether for a long time, because I wouldn’t “ear pinch” my dog to get her to retrieve.

I’ve done my share of going back and forth between methods. Sometimes the line is rather fine, between what is acceptable and what is not. Many years ago I tried using an electronic collar. I thought it could be used humanely on a low setting, as a signal to the dog. I was wrong. I soon concluded that it wasn’t a method I was interested in or could feel good about (no matter what the level) and isn’t something I would ever use again.

So where is YOUR line? Is it ok to shove your dog with your foot to correct a crooked sit? How about stepping on his toes to get him to back up? Or kneeing him in the chest when he jumps up? How about squirting him with a water bottle for barking? Is giving him a no reward marker (telling him NO when he is wrong) ok? How about a leash pop? Or stringing him up off the ground for a more serious offense?

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Obviously some of these methods are pretty extreme, and some are not. Where is YOUR line?

Is occasionally hitting your dog ok? How about grabbing him by the sides of the face and shaking him? Is it ok to rub your puppy’s nose in an “accident”? Or holding his mouth shut for puppy nipping? Where IS your line?

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Despite the enormous amount of evidence (scientific data) out there regarding the benefits of operant conditioning, many obedience folks still cling to the old ways. I’ve observed several obedience classes recently, and am surprised and saddened by the number of people still using this antiquated method. I see many dogs being “corrected” for things that they clearly don’t understand. Why would you punish your dog for something he hasn’t yet really learned? That just doesn’t make sense to me, and I think it’s unfair to the dog.

Compulsion training CAN and DOES work for many dogs, but here is my question to you. Why would you want to use that method if there was a better one out there? Next time you’re watching this type of obedience class, look at the dogs. How many look like they’re having a good time. AND, how far are you willing to go to get a straight sit? How much is it really worth to you?

Is it honestly too much to ask for an obedience class to be fun for us AND our dogs? I think not.

So where is MY Line?

Personally, this is a question that I have given a LOT of thought to throughout my training career. I have spent the past several years learning more and more about the benefits of positive dog training, and that has finally made my line crystal clear. What I do with my client’s dogs is the same as my own dogs - no rough stuff. It means learning what motivates your dog, and using that as reinforcer in your training. It means using your brain instead of your brawn. It also means ending up with a dog that works happily for you, and not one that obeys out of fear.

What I am trying to get to, in my very roundabout way, is that there is a HUGE difference in dog training techniques out there. And the unsuspecting owner may unintentionally enroll in a class that uses very punitive methods, and not even think about it. I want all of you out there to THINK ABOUT IT!! Think about what is and is not acceptable to YOU. We each have to make our own decisions on how to BE in this world, and how to BE with our dogs.

It’s your choice. Choose responsibly. Your dog is depending on you.

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As Luck Would Have It

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

The other day I was in the car on my way to an in-home training session. It was a beautiful day out, and I was loving it! I stopped at a stop sign, not far off FM 407, when something odd caught my eye. There was a small field there, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and something was standing there. Looked like a huge bird. It was motionless. I couldn’t tell if it was real or just a wooden statue. So I put on the emergency brake and turned on my flashers.

Sure enough, s-l-o-w-l-y he took a step. He WAS real!!! He was pretty cool looking, and as luck would have it - I had my camera with me, so I whipped it out of my bag and started snapping away.

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All of a sudden I looked in my rear view mirror and realized that a squad car had pulled up behind me. CRAP!!! No lights, but he sat there for a few minutes - probably running a check on my plates. My first instinct was to jump out of the car and explain that “Gee - I was only taking pictures”, but I know better than to do that. So I waited it out, and he finally came walking up. “Everything OK?” he asked. “Yea, sorry - I was just getting a couple of shots of this guy” and I pointed to where the bird had been. As luck would have it - he was gone!!

Naw - just kidding. Thank God he WAS still there, but it would have made for a better post if he hadn’t been. :-0

He asked if I got them (the pics) and then said, “Well, you better clear the street then”. I was lucky that he was a nice guy. What exactly IS the fine for obstructing traffic anyway? Never mind - I don’t want to know.

Till Next Time…

The Handwriting on the Wall - Again!

Monday, February 9th, 2009

NADAC (the North American Dog Agility Council) has a fair number of fundraisers every year. The closest one to me is in Calera, OK. It’s not far - just across the border.

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Several people had told me how laid back the trials are, and that the folks running them are the same. It’s just a one-ring trial, so no chance of having your dog “set-off” by seeing another dog running in the next ring. And the ring is closed in on three sides by walls, so only one side is open, and there are ring gates there to block it off. All in all, it sounded like the perfect venue to try a little black terrier with issues, and this was going to be the last weekend for Calera for quite some time.

So off we went early Saturday morning. I felt a bit of trepidation deep in the pit of my stomach, but some excitement too!

When we got there he had the normal outbursts while encountering new people and dogs. We only signed up for two runs: a Jumpers run and a game called Chances, that has a numbered course with a “gamble” in the middle of it. (A Gamble is usually 3 or 4 obstacles in a row with a “gamble line” that the handler is not allowed to cross. The point is to send your dog from a distance to do the obstacles). I only signed up for it so we could practice our running together - I didn’t care about, nor was I even going to try for the gamble.

It was not what I would call a pretty run, but it wasn’t totally without merit either. He did the beginning ok, then got off course but came back to me; ran through a couple of tunnels, and then bypassed the weave poles (cause we’re still working on the 2×2 method, and not doing them yet). Then he took the next 2 jumps, but went around the next tunnel, ran to the open doorway to bark at something outside, and came back to me to finish the course. As I said, I was not at all concerned about Q’ing (qualifying) or doing the gamble. I just wanted a little black pup-pup that would stay with me and try to please like his big sister. (They are VERY different dogs; each with their own strengths and weaknesses). I came away from the run feeling OK, but not really good.

Our Jumpers run was, well, short. The building has a couple of overhead doors that were opened up by the time the afternoon heat set in. (They have chain link fencing blocking them off, so escaping is not a worry). As I set Micah up on the start line, a group of very noisy Guinea’s decided to congregate within a few feet of the door.

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Micah could not contain himself, and ran over to bark at them. When I called him back, he ran past me and out of the ring. So that was the end of our Jumpers run. It WAS a very disappointing day. He usually does pretty well in class, but class is not the same atmosphere as a trial, and Micah is just not ready for it - plain and simple. It was good to find out where we are at. My gut instinct was right. So I will forego even thinking about trialing at this time, and do what I SAID I was going to do - start working him in obedience. I think that will help his concentration, and his self-control. And we will continue working the Control Unleashed program, (whether we’re in a formal class or not). More on that to follow.

I certainly haven’t given up on the little dude, but this definitely has put us behind the eight ball. At least for a while.

Stay tuned.