Tag Archives: training

Dog Show Season

I’m well-known as a bad blogger during dog show season.  My mind is occupied with ring training, travel plans, and ribbons.  This year has been a nice quiet year (mostly by choice).  We’ve scaled back quite a bit, and I’ve only accepted a very few dogs for training or handling.  We hit two shows in April, and two in May, but are only planning on one for each remaining month.  It’s just been too long away from home when I have a wee girlie (who’s now 22 months old) waiting for my return.

In a couple of weeks we head off to Nanaimo.  We’ll be flying to this show, which will be a new experience for me.  Normally my assistant, Jewles, and I drive everywhere.  This one is a 20 hour drive, and I’m only taking two client dogs – so it’s looking like flying will be the most cost effective way to get there and back.  Wish us luck.  🙂

Here are some candids of Sunny (Hileigh’s Blazing Sunshine) and I in the ring at a few different shows, and one of him relaxing in one of our many hotel rooms with Jewles.

Sunny in the ring at his first show, in Battleford Saskatchewan

Sunny in the ring at his first show, in Battleford Saskatchewan

Sunny at the HCKOC show in Saskatoon, SK

Sunny at the HCKOC show in Saskatoon, SK

Sunny, self-stacked, in the group ring in Regina, SK.

Sunny, self-stacked, in the group ring in Regina, SK.

Enjoying some off time at the Tropical Inn with Jewles.

Enjoying some off time at the Tropical Inn with Jewles.

Sunny is now sitting on eight points, and has already earned his first major – all as a Junior Puppy.  Also accompanying us to this next show will be Claire, a lovely black and tan girl who has earned four points being owner handled.  Wish us all luck as we head off to B.C. in June.


Aggression Begets Aggression

A new study proves something that dog professionals have known for years:  people who attempt to dominate, are more likely to to elicit aggressive behaviors from their dogs.  While this isn’t exactly “news” to those of us who’re involved in the art of training positively, it will definitely rate as news to some.  And in either case is worth noting.

If You’re Aggressive, Your Dog Will Be Too, Says Veterinary Study

ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2009) — In a new, year-long University of Pennsylvania survey of dog owners who use confrontational or aversive methods to train aggressive pets, veterinary researchers have found that most of these animals will continue to be aggressive unless training techniques are modified

The full story can be found here:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090217141540.htm

Teen Works to Make Debarking Illegal

A fifteen year old boy is working to have a bill passed that would make surgical debarking illegal. I know debarking is one of those hot button topics for many, but I have to admit, I see this as a good thing. I see debarked dogs at the shows all season long, and often there is reason behind their attempts to vocalize… It’s up to their families to find that reason and work with the dog. While a difficult nuisance behavior to deal with, recreational barking can be trained away from. It takes a lot of dedication, and watchfulness, but it can be done. And if the sound of a dog vocalizing is a mind-numbing pain for some, perhaps they should consider that before adding a dog (especially of a breed known for being highly “talkative”) to the family.

Teen files bill to make vocal surgery illegal
Putting a bite into debarking
By Laurel J. Sweet

Needham High freshman Jordan Star doesn’t claim he can talk to the animals, but as the surprise driving force behind a bill to outlaw the surgical silencing of dogs and cats, the teen is doing a fine job speaking on their behalf.
“To take a voice away from an animal is morally wrong,” Star, 15, said of convenience devocalization, the removal of a pet’s vocal cords so Fido and Fluffy are seen, not heard.
Star tackled the topic after encountering a dog who’d been debarked, then abandoned.
“It was just horrible,” he said of the dog’s struggle to get his attention. “It was just like a hoarse, wheezy cough. In a shelter, all they are is a mutilated animal, which makes them harder to adopt.”
Under his proposed law, to which Democratic House Majority Whip Lida E. Harkins and Republican Sen. Scott P. Brown have signed on as sponsors, devocalization would be illegal in Massachusetts unless a veterinarian licensed in this state certified for a town clerk or, in Boston, the police commissioner, that the operation was a medical necessity.  Anyone breaking the law would face up to five years in state prison and a mental-health evaluation. If enacted, it will be known as Logan’s Law for a debarked Belgian sheepdog Gayle Fitzpatrick, founder of Friends of the Plymouth Pound, and her husband Tom adopted from Texas.
“The reaction of people whenever he was outside was, ‘Does your dog have laryngitis?’ I tried to explain he had no voice box and people were pretty horrified by that,” Fitzpatrick said. “We always said to him, ‘We hear you,’ because he tried so hard to bark.”
The MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center refuses to perform non-medical devocalization, saying, “The responsible owner is willing to socialize and train a pet that is vocalizing excessively.”
Vera Wilkinson of The Cooperative Dog is a Chestnut Hill certified trainer, who heads the dog division of the International Association of Behavior Consultants.
“You have to get to the root of the problem. If the dog is barking, the dog is barking for a reason,” Wilkinson said.  “There’s a lack of understanding between people and dogs that leads to conflict, and unfortunately the dog often pays the price.

Full story can be found at http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1149346

Continuing with Sit… two steps forward, one step back

Training sessions like today are why I always remind my students not to get too wrapped up in how their dog is coming along (in regards to the training). Things may be going along better than you could have hoped, and then it feels like you’re going backwards. Not every dog learns everything at the same pace as every other dog, and like us, dogs have off days too. It’s important not to get frustrated. No matter how things are going, stay upbeat, and just have fun being with your dog.

As you know, things were going swimmingly with Roo. Her first training sessions exceeded my expectations. She’s such a quick learner, and I love working with her. She’s a total hoot.

It’s been a few days since I was last able to devote some real time to working with Roo. I’d been busy with Green Party business (planning and hosting an Energy Policy Forum) that finally wrapped up last night. I was so happy to have some time to really work with my wee girl again.

Today we had a major set back. Roo was so giddy and happy to be clicking with me, that she had next to no focus. She was jumping all over the place, couldn’t hold a sit for more than a moment, spent half her time sniffing the ground. It would have been really easy to get frustrated or fed-up… but you know what? This wasn’t her fault. I hadn’t given her as much time from me as she needed, so she had all sorts of pent up energy. So we put away the clicker, and just had a crazy game of Chihuahua-style wrestling (and a whole lot of laughs).

Roo needed a chance to just be a goofy puppy with me. One-on-one. With nothing else competing for my attention. It was a good reminder for me. It’s easy to get caught up with how well your dog is doing when everything seems to be going right… but the whole reason we do any of this is because of how wonderful it is to spend time with our furry family members. Sometimes one step back can be a lot more fun than another step forward.


Training Sit – Correct Position

Today Roo and I continued working on “sit”.  While yesterday I clicked for any and all sits, any distance from me, facing any direction, today we “upped the stakes”.  Because we are preparing for obedience competition, “sit” is not just a bum on the floor, it also requires a certain position in relation to the handler.  Today we began working towards proper position.

Initially, I clicked and treated for any sit, then slowly became more discriminating.  Instead of clicking for a sit five feet from me, I’d place her treat (post click) near my feet.  This required her to come in close to retrieve it before I’d ask for another sit.  After a few repeats she was sitting nice and close.  Then it became a matter of shaping her direction.  So not only did she have to come in nice and close to earn a click, she also had to direct her body towards me.

Remember, when working with your own dog, you may or may not be able to move quickly through this.  Some dogs pick up on some concepts quickly, while others take time.  If it takes four or five sessions to get proper placement, that’s okay.  Roo picked up on this quickly, but may not be so quick to grasp other skills.

Here’s a quick photograph of her sitting in excellent position for “sit”.

Roo, the Chihuahua puppy, in proper "sit" position.

Roo, the Chihuahua puppy, in proper "sit" position.

As you can see, this session I worked in bare feet.  Being so tiny Roo is often cautious around feet…  so getting in nice and close required a big leap on her part (and I gave her a nice big “jackpot” of treats the first time she did it).  Next time I will wear socks, and then sandals, then sneakers, and then I’ll likely try boots as well.  Slowly upping the criterion for the click, and building her confidence in the process.

For more information on beginning to click with your dog, or your toy breed dog in particular, visit me at http://www.noselicks.com/

Teaching “Sit”

I began clicking with our Chihuahua puppy Roo a couple of days ago. Today was our third session. Previously we introduced the clicker, and then worked on eye contact. Today we began with “sit”. Which made me think… perhaps a quick post or two on the basics might be useful.

I believe very strongly in free shaping. What this refers to is one of many processes by which you can introduce a cue or designate a behavior as desired. Free shaping is allowing the dog to offer actions or responses to the situation then labeling certain actions as positive. It is 100% hands off, and allows you and your dog to problem solve together. It’s really a wonderful, wonderful way to build confidence and trust in one another.

In teaching “sit”, we are giving a label to a behavior the dog already performs naturally. To free shape a sit, we are going to sit back with our clicker and treats, and watch. Eventually your dog is going to sit down. Likely when they get bored of trying to get your attention. Some dogs will wander around for some time, others will sit fairly quickly – be patient.

As soon as your dog sits down, click and offer them a treat. Repeat.

Initially your dog will have to get up out of the sit to come and get the treat from you. Soon enough though, you’ll find him sitting right in front of you immediately after taking the previous treat. To get your dog out of the sit position, so you can get him to repeat it (instead of maintaining it) toss the treat a couple of feet away. Make sure he sees you do so, so that he can find it quickly.

Roo began offering the sit quickly after only a few repetitions, but many dogs will take longer. Don’t fret. Some pick up on certain behaviors quickly and others more slowly – this is not an indication of their intelligence or your ability as a trainer. Just keep at it, and you’ll both have it down pat soon enough.

When you are about 90% certain your dog will perform the desired behavior, add the cue (in this case, “sit”). Say it right before that bum hits the floor. Then click and treat as earlier. After a few repeats your dog will begin associating this word with the behavior.

Throughout your training sessions do your best to refrain from talking to your dog. Let the clicker be your voice, communicating your pleasure with his behavior. It’s faster and more efficient than we could be without it. Save your verbal praise, pets, pats, and cuddles for after the session. Also, keep your rate of reinforcement high. The more often and quicker you are able to reward your dog, the better. If you aren’t clicking soon enough when first introducing a behavior your dog may get frustrated and give up.

Today, Roo and I only worked for about four minutes (after the first time she offered the sit). She’s a high energy six month old puppy with a limited attention span… it’s far better to stop before she begins to wander. We were able to introduce the cue in this time frame, and had about ten repetitions afterwards. If we were to work in another room next time, I would not expect her to know what the cue meant – despite excellent performance today. A different room, different distractions, all communicate different things to your dog. So next time, we’ll work somewhere else, or we’ll work with me standing rather than sitting. By slowly changing the environment, yet requiring the same behavior she will eventually understand that “sit” means sit – regardless of where we are or what we’re doing.

So keep at it, and have fun. Free shaping is a great way to train with your dog – and you’ll likely learn as much as they do in the process.

Delayed Instruction – a story about teaching

I’ve had a number of people ask me about delayed instruction. If you watch the video I posted where Tammy and Cabri are learning how to target, you may notice that I don’t correct Tammy on her treat delivery until half way into our session. Knowing that doing things the right way makes a tremendous difference, many have wondered why I would delay my instruction. I purposefully delay for two reasons.

1. When learning a new skill, constantly hearing what you are doing wrong doesn’t make for a very pleasant experience. Overloading students with rules and suggestions on how to best teach their dog doesn’t help anyone. It’s far easier to learn and retain things one piece at a time – so I prioritize. What is the most important thing to teach first? Everything else can wait.

2. Experience is often the best teacher. Learning for yourself, through experience that one way is more efficient than another will be far more valuable a lesson than anything I could tell my students.

Recently, on the Clicker Solutions email list (which I highly value and recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about Clicker Training), Douglas St. Clair shared a story from his own life. Doug’s story summed up the value of delayed instruction perfectly and more beautifully than I could. It is with his permission that I offer his story below.

Back in high school I went out for track. We had an exceptional coach. One of the students he coached went on to become a gold medalist in the Olympics. The first week all he had me do was to run laps. He didn’t comment. He answered questions if I asked. He simply said go out and run as many laps as I could. Early in the second week he called me over and made a suggestion about the way I used my arms. Then he sent me back to running laps. He was very low key. Very much not in my face. He was also very very knowledgeable and it became crystal clear when I did what he suggested with my arms. He sold me with that and I was convinced that anything he suggested would bring the improvement it had.

I realized that an important part of his style was salesmanship. He not only told me what I could do he sold me by first letting me do things any way I wanted. Giving me freedom of choice. He made a suggestion that improved what I was doing materially and convinced me that if I did what he suggested my performance would improve.

My point is that part of teaching, leading, mentoring, or coaching can be improved if you choose an approach the sells your student, subordinate, etc on the value of what you tell them.

Thank you Doug.

By allowing students to experience a less effective way of doing things, they can then see for themselves the differences made by a small change. Of course, if a student were ever doing things in a manner that might hurt or confuse their dog I would step in immediately… but in this particular case, Tammy simply needed to make a small change to increase her efficiency and effectiveness. Seeing herself the difference, she was sold on the change.

The training video can be seen at http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=12525518

The clicker solutions email list can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ClickerSolutions/