Archive for the ‘Training Tips & Blurbs’ Category

Fell Off the Face of the Earth?

Monday, November 16th, 2009

All two of you that had been reading my Blog must have thought I had been blown away by a random sniper, or thrown in jail, or incapacitated by a horrible car wreck. Actually, no.

I’ve recently become involved with a new business venture called Dog City Training Center. It was opened by a couple of friends of mine, and I’ve been quite “involved”. (For any of you in the area, it’s in Carrollton, TX). You can check out the website at: dogcitytrainingcenter.com

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Dog City is the first (that I know of) totally positive training center in my area, and I am absolutely thrilled with it. We are cutting edge dog training, and are teaching our students the value of creating a “thinking” dog. Some of you might think that is a bad thing, but I assure you, it’s not. :-) We have agility, manners classes, flyball, levels obedience and much more.

I went to a Rally-O trial today (a combination of agility and obedience) and was once again reminded of why I do what I do – train positively. I saw quite a few dogs in the ring walking around with their heads and tails down, pensively prodding along, obviously not enjoying themselves. Obviously afraid of making a mistake. Once again - a wonderful reminder that with positive training, the dog doesn’t have to be afraid of making a mistake. They are not punished, they just aren’t rewarded.

Dog City Training Center in many ways, is a dream come true for me, even if I’m not the owner. It stands for everything I believe in (as far as dog training goes). I hope that any of you in the area have a chance to check it out. It’s training at it’s best!!! And I am SO grateful for that!!

Happy Training!!!

The Power of “Shaping”

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

For those of you not fluent in “clicker” language, shaping is a process wherein you “click” (thus telling the dog – yes – that’s exactly what I want) for tiny approximations toward your goal behavior. It is a powerful, powerful tool.

Let’s say I want to train Micah to make a figure 8 around two traffic cones. First I would click him for just looking at the cone(s). I will usually click twice for the same behavior. Then the third time he looked at the cones I would just wait (and NOT click). I would wait for him to offer SOMETHING ELSE. More than likely he would take a step toward one of the cones and I would click again. The next step would be for him to actually get close to one of the cones, and I would click for that.

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Then he might turn back toward me, asking “is that what you wanted?” No click for turning back toward me. So he would probably go and sniff the cone, for which I would click again. Then I would withhold the click until he made just the slightest movement toward the back of it. Click! As he starts to move around the back of the cone – click again.

Hopefully you’re getting the idea of how shaping works. The process of getting him to go around the 1st cone took about 2 minutes. Getting the figure 8 around both cones took less than 10 minutes. I dare say I would have had a hard time training that behavior in 10 minutes with any other method.

Dogs that get “shaped” on a regular basis are pretty savvy on how to play the game. Instead of just standing there looking at you – waiting for you to “lure” them into position, (or better yet, physically push them into position such as pushing a dogs butt to the ground for a sit), you get a dog that thinks “hmmmm – what can I do to get mommy to make that clicking sound”, and will try behaviors on their own. They will actually search out ways to make the clicker “click”. The science of behavior has proven that when a dog makes a conscious decision, it releases endorphins in the brain. This is a very good thing! The behavior sticks because they have learned it ON THEIR OWN. THEY did something that caused the click, and hence the reward (be it food, or play or praise). They learn NOTHING by having their butt pushed to the ground, and they learn PITIFULLY LITTLE (I would guess virtually nothing) by leading them with a treat in front of their nose. In fact, the treat in front of the nose (for most dogs with a pulse) mainly makes them deaf, dumb and blind to much of anything else.

I can’t emphasis enough what a HUGELY powerful tool shaping is. If you want to prove it to yourself – conduct a little experiment in “free shaping”. Get out your clicker and some yummy treats and just wait for your dog to do something – anything. If he hears something and he turns his head to the left – click. If he sneezes – click. If he lies down – click. (The only things that I would NOT click would be behaviors that you don’t want such as barking, etc).

What he will start to understand is that, HE is somehow causing you to click (and reward). Just play the game for 2 to 3 minutes and then end with a “good dog” and maybe a short game of tug.

The next time you get out the clicker, he will start offering even more behaviors. Experiment with putting various objects on the floor. Will he put a paw on it? Will he touch his nose to it? Will he pick it up and fling it across the room? These are all behaviors that can be put on “cue” or command. You may ask, why would I want to put a head turn, or a fling across the room on cue. Why would I want my dog to do that? Quite simply, the more a dog learns, the easier learning becomes. And if you want to get a little creative, you can do some pretty interesting things with a few simple behaviors strung together.

Don’t forget – just like people – dogs need mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise. Learning is fun, and will make him a better, more enjoyable dog. I promise!!!!

Happy Training!

Gun Shy

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

How many of us have had some kind of behavior problem with our dogs, only to withdraw into oblivion and pretend that it doesn’t exist? Many. I know. I’ve had clients do it. And I’ve been tempted to do it myself, once or twice.

Several years ago I had a pit bull in one of my group classes, that was very reactive to other dogs. He would bark and lunge and pretty much go nuts whenever he saw another dog. So I had his owner work on walking him around, (a good distance away from the rest of the class), and reward him for not reacting to the others. The rest of the class worked on a variety of things that night, but Judy just worked on getting her dog to be able to look at another dog without going ballistic. By the end of the class, she had made a TON of progress. He could come within about 12 feet of another dog without barking and lunging. The work that she did with her dog that night was the most important thing she could have done. It was VITALLY important. The dog had the potential to do a lot of damage, and this was the first step in helping him to divert that behavior.

When I spoke to her the following week, she informed me that she would not be coming back to class. When I asked her why, she said that her husband was totally mortified by the way the dog acted, and they would NOT be returning. I explained that I thought what happened that night at class was a really GOOD thing, and that she HAD made a huge amount of progress, and how important that work was, etc. It was no use, his mind was made up, and she wasn’t about to change it. So instead of continuing to work through the problem, I would imagine that the dog will now just be locked in the house, not able to interact with any other dogs ever, which will just exacerbate the problem. They will have to “manage” his behavior for the rest of his life.

I have always felt really bad about that incident, and have often wondered what happened to that dog, and his owners. But on some level, lots of us do the same thing. If our dog does something that we consider “not good” how many of us just try to avoid the situation in the future, instead of working through it? Susan Garrett, one of the most brilliant dog trainers I know, says that whenever we see a shortcoming in our dog, we should look at it as a “training opportunity”. Instead of running the other way, or making excuses for why he does that, we need to work on the problem, and train for it.

As many of you know, I’ve entered Micah in a couple of agility trials only to be pretty much humiliated. To have him either run around like a crazy man, or run out of the ring is certainly less than ideal. So of course my instinct was to never show him again – not seriously – but at least not for a long time. True, I don’t want him to be rehearsing that behavior, but how is he going to get better without more experience? So while we have continued to work on our agility, we have also decided to start doing some fun matches. Fun matches are somewhat like an agility trial, but they don’t count, and there isn’t an actual judge. It’s for the dogs to “practice”, and get more experience, often in a new location.

So on Saturday, we went off to somewhere we’ve never been before, for our 1st fun match in a very long time. Micah did surprisingly well. We opted for 2 jumpers runs and 2 standard runs. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they weren’t entirely bad either. He had a couple of “woo-hoo” moments, and being a crazy little guy, but they didn’t last. By the 4th run, it was getting downright hot, and he was not at his best, but he still seemed to be trying. I was really glad we went, and will definitely enter more fun matches in the future!!

I guess the bottom line is: if your dog has a problem – whatever it is – don’t run and hide in a corner. Dogs learn from training and experience, not isolation. People aren’t paying nearly as much attention to you as you give them credit for. Work on the problem and figure out a way to fix it, or at least improve it! Your dog will be SO much the better for it – and you will too!!

Happy training!!!

Mickey

Micah’s 2×2 Weave Pole Update

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

I know it’s been some time since I said I was going to post video of Micah’s progress with his weave poles. Our progress has been a little slower than I would have liked, in part due to me! and my lack of organization. But I think he’s coming along nicely.

He is doing 8 poles at home, with a fair amount of speed, but he lacks consistency. He frequently doesn’t complete all 8, but I have a plan for working that. Alas, I was so excited to go to agility class the other night and show my instructor how well he is doing, and he looked at her set of poles like he had never seen one before! Ha! What was that about generalization? And how dogs aren’t very good at it? (That’s why you always have to work something in LOTS of different places, for the dog to really GET it). OK dog trainer – start moving those weaves around the yard a bit. Oh yeah, I remember now. Duh!

Anyway – here’s the video of him and his 8 poles. I have a longer version (still under 3 minutes) of a summary of 2 poles to 8 poles, but I really think the only one who might be interested in that is Gail. Let me know if anyone out there is dying to see it, and I’ll post it.

Here’s the link:

micah doing 8 poles

Bo - The First Dog

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Woo-hoo! I am SO happy to see that the new “first dog” is being trained by a positive dog trainer. Sylvia Stasiewicz founded Merit Puppy Training in the 90’s and teaches Positive Reinforcement Training Classes for Dogs of All Ages. It’s so wonderful to see someone on the positive team, being so high profile.
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I don’t mean to make it sound like there aren’t others out there – there are. There are tons of them in fact, but let me tell you - when you’re actually looking for a class in your area, they may be a little tough to find. I have to credit my good friend Paula for filling me in on the scoop. I’ve been a little news negligent lately. Sometimes it’s just better that way.

Victoria Stilwell is another (even more) high profile trainer out there trying to pass along the benefits of positive training. She has a television show called It’s Me or the Dog that airs on Saturday night. Despite my irritation with her on The Greatest American Dog, I’m usually right on board with her methods.
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And I think her show provides some balance for the Dog Whisperer broadcast. Don’t get me wrong. Cesar provides some entertaining TV, and is quite a charming guy. I once went to Oklahoma to see him speak. He was mesmerizing, and very humorous. He’s a great speaker, that one. He’s an entertainer. In fact. . . no . . . I’ll stop there. Let’s just say that Victoria’s show balances him out. There’s no smoke and mirrors with her. Pretty much just straightforward problem fixing – done in a positive way. A little silly, and a little too “girlie” at times - but all in all a great trainer.

I think that as time goes on, we will hear more and more about positive training. After all, places like Sea World have been using it for many, many years. You really can’t train a killer whale using a “correction” or intimidation. And most progressive zoos are using it as well, for simple medical procedures.

So chalk one up for our team - the positive folks. And Bo - make us proud! Everybody’s watching!

Six Great Minds

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The Art and Science of Animal Training: Where Are We Now? Where Are We Going?

Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending a one day seminar at the University of North Texas in Denton, featuring a panel of dynamic forces in the world of behavior and training.

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Bob Bailey (who is an absolute ICON in the world of animal training and behavior) was to give the keynote address, but was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery only a week earlier, so he was unable to attend. I was SO looking forward to seeing him again, but am grateful that he is doing well. He is truly a remarkable man, and sent a very nice message to all of us at the conference.

So the lineup of speakers and topics were:


Alexandra Kurland - Going Micro:
The Evolution of Equine Clicker Training

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She has been teaching and training horses since the 80’s and using clicker training with them since the early 90’s. She is a pioneer in the development of humane training methods. For more information on her, visit The Clicker Center .


Kay Laurence - Reinforcement Patterns, Reinforcement Styles
and How They Affect the Outcomes

images Kay has been a professional trainer for nearly 30 years, and is one of the world’s top clicker trainers. She has authored several books, and videos, and is frequently a speaker at Karen Pryor’s Clicker Expo. I hadn’t ever heard her speak, and she was as entertaining as she was informative. She’s the kind of gal you’d like to take out for drinks and just listen to her stories for hours. You can check out her website at Wag More Bark Less


Ken Ramirez – Evolution of a Zoo Trainer: A Personal Perspective
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Ken never disappoints as a lecturer. He’s knowledgeable and clever and always has plenty of video to amuse and enlighten us. This year he brought a really cool film of two dolphins and “handlers” in an underwater ballet. It was breathtaking.

He has worked with many species during his 30 years as a professional trainer, and is currently VP of Animal Collections and Training at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.


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Steve Martin (not THAT Steve Martin) – The Art of Training
Steve has been a Master Falconer for over 40 years, and has lived with parrots since he was a child. Although he has worked with many different species, birds seem to be his specialty. He set up the first free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. He spends over two-thirds of his year on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behavior issues or teaching people the art and science of animal behavior. You can read more about Steve at Natural Encounters

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Steve White – Skinner and World Collide! Film at 11:00
Steve is a 30-year veteran of the Seattle Police Force – Canine Unit and is accredited as a Master Trainer by the Washington State Canine Association. He brings a unique perspective to dog training, specializing in behavior modification, tracking and scent work through the use of positive reinforcement based operant conditioning. He also has his own training business and you can get more info about him at i2i K9


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The day was sponsored by ORCA - Organization for Reinforcement Contingencies with Animals, a group within UNT and was moderated by Jesus Rosales-Ruiz. Jesus is an Associate professor in the Dept. of Behavior Analysis and works very closely with many of the grad students there.

At the end of the day they took questions from the audience, and had a round table discussion with the whole panel of speakers. My one regret was that I forgot my camera at home, so the only pictures I could take were with my iphone. It’s a GREAT phone, but a really CRAPPY camera!!!

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It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a seminar and it was really rewarding (no pun intended) to have my philosophy of dog training reinforced by some of the best behavior minds in the country. I always feel recharged and exhilarated when I come away from these events. It was a fabulous day topped off with Mexican and margaritas with friends. I can’t wait to see who they will have on the panel next time!

“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”.

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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.

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

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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).

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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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I’ve Gone VIDEO!!

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I told you that my computer guru was going to give me a video lesson. Well he did, and I’m learning! YEA!!! Just baby steps for now.

See the premier video below. Certainly nothing fancy, just me, showing Micah’s first agility practice after being off for 4 months due to my foot surgery. It’s backyard stuff, but we had fun seeing what he could remember - and I think he did greatl!! You go, terrier #2!!

Back To Agility

“Unleashed”!

Friday, January 16th, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, Micah and I enrolled in a new training class, and it started last night. It’s for dogs that are reactive, distracted, anxious, stressed, uncomfortable, etc. in any number of situations.

Initially I thought the class was going to be very small, but we ended up with 8 dogs and handlers. I am actually VERY happy about that, as I think working around MORE dogs and people will be more beneficial.

As we approached the training barn, Micah EXPLODED, barking and howling at a man who was walking out the door toward us. It was someone that he has seen several times, and actually rode to class with in the same car. Go figure. He continued to bark relentlessly as Cait attempted to direct us to our appointed station. I could barely hear what she was saying, and she was just a few feet away. Such is life with the Micah man.

However, once settled in, he calmed down immensely. I brought a mat for him to lie on (when he wasn’t in his crate), where he could get treats for being a good boy. For the most part he paid attention like he was supposed to.

The class also has a huge focus on relaxation. We not only want our dogs to be able to work around whatever environment we bring them to, but we want them to be able to do it with a minimal amount of stress.

I have to admit that we haven’t ever done any work in this area. Generally, Micah is excellent at giving me attention, and “working” with me, but there’s really no relaxation going on there. :-)
When he’s “on”, he’s ON.
(This is Micah giving me “chin” where he bops his chin on the ground)

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So we will work on relaxing - on body massage - and on having soft eyes and a relaxed mouth.

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During class we did an exercise where we each took a turn inside “the box”. It was a square made up of ring gates, similar to this but without the jumps in the middle, and much, much, MUCH smaller!

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One dog at a time, we entered the box with our dog and just walked around. Whenever our dog gave us eye contact, we would treat. Depending on how the dog was doing, someone with (or maybe without) a dog would approach the “box”, very gently, to see if the dog inside could continue to work with his handler, without getting stressed. While that dog was working in the box, the rest of the class was free to work independently, by either moving around the barn, or working on relaxation techniques on their mat.

Cait Macanliss of Dogstar Academy in Lancaster TX runs the class. It’s very informal, and she has an easy, relaxed way about her. She’s a natural “animal person” and went out of her way to make sure that everyone was comfortable.

And it was really comforting to walk into a class where your dog COULD react and have a “meltdown” if he needed to, and know that no one there would judge you. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks, and all that we will (hopefully) learn.

Maybe next week I can bring my camera and get some shots if no one minds.
Stay tuned.