Tag Archives: Dog training

Different ways to teach things to dogs

 

DSCN1091.JPGIf, as I read in a summary of one study, 90% of the dogs in America know the command for sit and that’s about it. Then I’m not sure why we’re having such a hoopla about training methodology. It would seem, if that’s the case, then whatever is being used isn’t working very well as far as expanding communication. I do hope that at least 90% of dogs are house-trained? Unfortunately a lot of the dogs I met in the shelter system weren’t, but then they didn’t seem to know ‘sit’ either.

Below is a listing of the methodologies I’ve used. The first one is what I was initially trained to do and got quite good at … then when I found out how much better the others worked I was incredibly irritated that I had been introduced to and worked so hard to get good at a method I needed, for the most part, to discard. Maybe that’s why there is so much hoopla. Even though I was good at this first method, the dogs I trained tended to want to quit when we got to the upper levels – I assume they didn’t want to work through any more negatives. The other methods have not had that as a barrier. But I have noticed more hijinx, more fun and less ‘stay there and don’t do anything.’

Mostly I use shaping now, although I’m wondering how much of the shaping works because my dogs understand my minor cues in looking at or adjusting my body to influence their choices … so maybe some sort of mimic/mirroring is occurring. I have also rewarded handling choices, like collar grabs, enough to mostly make them not negative, so some of the first kind of training has morphed into a more positive vein.

1. Training Strategy: Physical placement  – Say “SIT” Pull up on leash (probably with training collar on), optional push down on rear. Release pressure when they comply. Praise for compliance. Type: Negative Reinforcement (increasing behavior by removing something bad (neck pressure) or sometimes positive (meaning ‘added’) punishment because timing is poor and pressure doesn’t get released. Side-effects: Some people like the immediate ‘making them do it’, which increases its use as a technique. Some dogs find this form of training quite unpleasant and stressful, and because the dog doesn’t enjoy the training, after while the handler doesn’t enjoy it either. The use of pressure must be faded as a cue – dogs need to learn to do the action without the pressure, but the risk is the dog continues to need a pressure prompt and the trainer ends up getting harsher and harsher in their efforts to make the dog do what they say. This is a very traditional method, so there are many older references to it. This is where most of the electronic training devices fit in – so there is lots of marketing for this strategy. Dogs tend to become phlegmatic with this method or ratchet up to wildness if told no, often anxious about training or new training, wise to the usual tools used and unwilling to try new things.

2. Training Strategy:  Luring: Show dog reward (or otherwise encourage their attention) and use it to get the body position desired, wait for them to, for example  – sit, because looking up the reward is easier while sitting. Reward with treat, or toy for sitting. Do luring only initially (say less than 10 times), then start waiting for the desired response and reward after it occurs. When you can predict the sit 90% of the time, then add the verbal cue, “Sit”. Type: Positive Reinforcement (increasing behavior by providing reward for it) Side-effects: Dog becomes much more attentive and interested when training is offered. Improves relationship, and increases drive to learn. Creates consistent responses. If luring is used after the behavior is established (for example: food presented first, instead of after the dog offers a response), then the dog may learn to wait it out for a better or bigger offer. Thereby reversing the training process and shaping the owner’s response. This becomes the main complaint about this kind of training – lack of fading the lure…which is unfortunately the owner’s misunderstanding about how to use a reward. Another risk is over-use of treats and subsequent obesity.

3. Training strategy: Shaping.  Set up environment for likely response (for example be close to something, recently handle something, have a prior training prompt or value on something) and when dog looks at or goes toward or steps on or sits on or touches the new thing – reward. Progressively rewarding behaviors that are getting closer to what you want is called “shaping.” This is a build-a-behavior from the beginning (or from a foundation of other behaviors already built) process where the dog is offering actions and only getting rewarded for those that match the steps to what is wanted by the trainer. The dog tries stuff and the trainer responds by marking the right or closer to right behaviors. Type: positive reward and negative punishment (which means the dog gets nothing he wants for the wrong actions). Side-effects: Dog becomes very knowledgeable about what the criteria are for completing a task. This system is quite motivating when done well. The biggest issue with this is beginning trainers not knowing the progression of steps and so not rewarding early enough to keep the dog interested in trying to figure out what is wanted. Also dogs can become very interested in offering novel behaviors, which depending on what you want, may be undesirable.

4. Training strategy: Capturing. Observe and capture it. Most of the things we want on verbal or signal control are things the dog does in general life. If we watch we can mark and reward the behaviors we like as the dog does them. Unfortunately this strategy is most often used in reverse of the above, marking the behaviors that are not desired and punishing them. Side-effects: If using rewards and capturing this is great for identifying calm behaviors. It can be clear, but difficult to repeat (especially quick actions that are cute or funny) because observation is the only set up. If used alone as system – to mark and punish unwanted behaviors – this method tends to produce  anxious, hyper-active, unsure, disinterested dogs.

5. Training strategy: Mimic/copy what I do. Person does something and dog copies it for a reward. If dog is watching and realizes how it works then this can be a very fast way to train. This is often seen in ‘give me your paw,’ person puts hand out and dog may do the same, or lie down – person lays down and so does dog and jumping … there are actually quite a few things that dogs will often copy in action. Side-effects: Some things you don’t want copied by the dog.  …I have not used this method as a stand-alone, so I’m not a good judge of what could be accomplished.

What should you do? Well it depends on you and your dog. Back when the first method I listed was typically the only method used in training police dogs, seeing eye dogs, war dogs … many of these dogs washed out. The change to using more positive reward systems significantly increased the success rate of the programs and increased the working-span of the dogs. But I know that people like to ‘make their dogs’ … whatever and in many ways that is easiest, not the most effective or efficient, but easiest for people to understand. So if you need easiest, go for it. I’ll still be around when it doesn’t work for you. DSCN0944

Puppy progress (Siggy)

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Siggy is a black, Golden Doodle, 27 weeks old.      photo: J. Renzoni

Siggy has reached, 6 months,  50#s, has grown up teeth, has had a tussle with Reggie (Jack Russell) and been told off by Jazzie (heeler) and Max (shepherd). Getting to be a big boy. His jumping ability is prodigious, his speed is considerable. He’s visited the horses several times and shows reasonable care about it, although I wasn’t on-board with the last tour. His own efforts at becoming a hunter/gatherer, he’s captured and dispatched a vole and climbed into the compost bin and fetched an orange peel out of it (it’s now more thoroughly covered).

He likes carrying large things … boxes, throw rugs, branches and jumping up on things … gates, raised garden beds and perches of any kind.

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photo: J. Renzoni

All of the training we began with has grown, changed, adjusted with his needs and the differences he is showing now. But much of it is just a rule we continue to do each time … like sitting at doorways or at gateways to be released on through. His training is a game of choices … he makes the right choice and gets rewarded – for laying down, heeling, going to crate, fetching, tricks, settling on dog bed, coming … etc. I just counted about 25 cues, plus there’s a bunch of things we’re working on that aren’t named yet. Training comes in layers, in stages – one piece of learning makes it possible for the next piece. And if the foundation isn’t solid, neither are the next steps. Each piece, if played with, approached from many angles becomes better and better understood.  For example: sit … if you teach it at doors, from standing, from you sitting, from lying down, in the middle of tug or before and after, beside you, in all locations … then it becomes a clearly understood cue.

The same thing is important about recalls. With his added speed, confidence and capabilities comes the increased need to practice different levels of recalls … distance recalls on walks, recalls away from other dogs or people and recalls away from fun things he likes. However, if the basic games of coming here when there isn’t distance, when there are hardly any distractions haven’t been done … then now would not be the time to test it and fail.

The recall games begin close, begin with lots of quickly given rewards, begin with fun, but without distraction and without a likelihood of failure.

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Photo: J. Renzoni

Now, with Siggy, I know how good his recall is, so I know when to ask and I know when not to ask. We’re getting to the point of a really brilliant recall, at all times. Now, for us, is the time to find out when it will fail, and use that to clarify expectations.

So many things he’s been taught, building on up. Training certainly isn’t done … actually never done, but he’s becoming a great dog.

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Photo: J. Renzoni

He’s been my demo puppy for two classes, in a couple of weeks we’ll start the third class he’ll be involved in. He goes as a sidelines pup to agility classes (I use it as training time with active dog distractions going on).

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photo: J. Renzoni

One puppy kindergarten class with 6 sessions is just not enough…whatever kind of dog you have. It’s a great beginning, but would you be prepared for life with only the info you got in kindergarten?

This week is Westminster Dog Show, I never went to Westminster, but I did do dog showing back in the 1990s, obedience and conformation. And I know most people don’t even consider doing competition, but one of the things competition teaches is how much effort is needed to get to the level of being able to do things really well as a team (dog/person).

I think we all want to be able to do things with our dogs … in order to set that up there needs to be clarity and understanding on the part of the dog, and the person needs to know the dog’s likes, preferences, fears and strengths and play to those. We can change things for the better, it takes a persistent, fun, building-layers effort.

Don’t stop, when you’ve just begun…

New Puppy – Great Beginings

IMG_6813Three months ago I got a new puppy. I named him Signal, Siggy … Freud … Sig and he’s great! Fast learner. Active. Agile. Motion attraction. Amazing bounce … and likes pretty much everything.

Would he be a good choice for everybody? For sure not, probably too fast a learner, too active, too agile, too likely to chase things and too much bounce.

What kind of criteria do you have for choosing a new pup? How well have you followed it in practice? Do you have certain things you plan on doing with your dog? How have your last dogs been? What didn’t work for you? These are all questions worth answering before getting a new pup.a

Just like in training or planning anything I had my ‘have to haves’ and my ‘likes, but not necessary.’ My needs included a medium large dog (aiming for 50-65#), people and dog social (before I have had more aloof dogs and they suit me, but maybe not my dog training class atmosphere). Excellent conformation, score well on puppy temperament test and I had a handful of breeds that would be likely good choices. The parents should be excellent examples of their breed and consistent with what I was wanting. I preferred a non-black dog … but only because I do photos and videos and black is hard to see details, expressions or even body parts sometimes.

IMG_6834abSo he’s all black. Rich, very black, black. He’s a doodle, which hits the people and dog social, and size range. I’ve known his mom, an AKC registered, 45#, standard poodle named Ruby, since she was a couple of months old.

Five months, the age where most people think … “whew, potty trained, better start doing some other training.” If you’re in that group I do have a dog basic obedience class coming up in January. Sig will be going … he’ll be my demo pup. Reportedly the other pups in his litter are kinda wild. I’m not surprised since active, quick and agile pups tend to get that way if they aren’t handled skillfully. We were visiting the vet clinic yesterday afternoon to put up flyers and practice puppy skills and Sig is the calmest one they’ve seen.

Which is nice to hear about ‘the dog trainer’s pup.’

But, you know, that’s not really true. What’s true is he’s had practice and knows what is expected and so he can be calm. Clarity produces confidence. He’s still very much a puppy. His mask of self-assurance and self-control can crumble if over-faced.

He has been in puppy kindergarten, he goes weekly to agility as a ring-side spectator, we do errand runs to town and practice what he knows in all sorts of parking lots and I do training sessions with him a minimum of three times daily (three meals … three opportunities to train). Yesterday I started the process of going inside dog friendly establishments because the more practice he gets, the better he’ll be. The other reason I was waiting to enter public buildings is he has nervous or submissive urination and I wanted to be sure we had that under control before stressing him.

I’ve come to the conclusion that nervous pee-ers are a lot like scared pups. Oh, body language is very different, but they need less eye contact, less verbal interaction, and no, or minimal, touch from unknown people.

Sig is cute and waggy. He looks very inviting and people want to come up and grab both sides of his face and cuddle. That’s way too much! Even if I tell them just one hand, just brief … they don’t seem able to listen.

So I just say no and block them. I don’t need random strangers creating bad rehearsals for my pup. I want good rehearsals. This temporary problem isn’t going to become a lifelong habit.

Both places we went into yesterday … were great.  Dry floors.  Of course, I did potty breaks before entering (an empty bladder is less likely to leak under stress). And anyone longingly staring, we just moved on and ignored.

Even the best choices of puppy are going to come with issues … I didn’t mention that we’re working on stopping the mouthing, and the jumping and the picking up everything reachable and…IMG_6881

 

Dog Emotions

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Signal at 8 weeks. Photo by J. Renzoni.

Emotion drives learning, it drives action, change, and behaviors. There are some emotions that are the same behavior from the canine … these are core emotions.

Anger or Rage = snarls, bites, escape physical restraint. The lower level of this is frustration, which is sparked by mental restraint.

Fear = freeze or run away, when survival is threatened in any way.

Social attachment/panic from abandonment = separation calls, basically “come back, don’t leave me” in barking, whining and howling.

Seeking or Anticipation = animal moves forward, sniffing and exploring to make sense of the world around us. Seeking is also wanting something good, and looking forward to getting something good, and curiosity.

There are three more positive emotion systems identified: Lust – description not needed, Care – maternal love and care-taking, and Play – the roughhousing all young animals do which is a sign of good welfare, because a dog that is depressed, frightened or angry doesn’t play.

Max and Signal seeking.
Max and Signal seeking – Max knows what he’s looking for, Signal, not so much.                         Photo: J. Renzoni
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Signal has discovered the joys of horse apples. Photo: J. Renzoni

Rule of thumb: Don’t trigger anger/rage, fear and/or panic from abandonment if you can help it; do trigger – seeking and play.

Exception to the rule of thumb: Do trigger frustration as a way to train impulse control … ie., stay, wait at doors, gates, crates; and as a way to build resilience and tolerance to failures (willingness to keep trying when not understanding a training goal). So we do want dogs to understand that they need to wait to get something they like (freedom, toys, food, fun), and we also want them to keep trying to figure out what we want from them and not just give up and go find something else to do.

The risk is that frustration if too much becomes anger and rage.

Example:

Signal at 10 weeks. Many things are fun.
Signal at 10 weeks. Many things, including grass, are fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni
Smokey at 10 years.
Smokey at 10 years. Puppies might not be considered so fun.      Photo: J. Renzoni

I have a new puppy named Signal. He is ten weeks old, has wavy black hair, black nose and essentially black eyes. He would like to run after our cat, Smokey (10 years old, brown tabby, dog-wise). I have been preventing him, Smokey has been preventing him and sometimes his X-pen fence is preventing him.

This frustration has built up some bouncing and some barking and even a little dodging and weaving. Picture tail high, play bow with intermittent sideways puppy leaps. I am offering food when he’s quiet and looking, I’ve removed him from the scene, and I’ve distracted him, all to make sure the mental frustration doesn’t get too high. I want a pleasant relationship between the two of them.

The cat, has meowed, in an irritated way at him. No hissing or batting and I want to keep it that way, this pup seems like he’d escalate if that were to happen.

This morning when Smokey was doing his jumping routine for treats next to the X-pen. Signal got rewards timed to keep him occupied while Smokey did his thing and got rewarded for it. Soon the two will not think of each other as so novel.

Frustrating, yes. Leads to learning. Anger, no.

 

(To learn more about puppy training join the Puppy Kindergarten class, next one scheduled Oct 15th. See fb for more information).

 

 

Learning Zone – dogs

A stressed dog will not absorb training.

A stressed person will not absorb training.

If you and your dog are in your comfort zone, really in your comfort zone, you’re probably just repeating the habits, repeating the things that you’ve already learned, already done, many times before. That’s why they are comfortable. Same environment, same people/animals, same games, same, same…

Learning happening here? Not unless something changes.

Learning takes you out of your comfort zone, but not too far out of it. It should make you slightly nervous, somewhat frustrated … still you’re willing and in control.

So what happens if you hear/see a handler whose dog was being difficult and she’s proud because she showed him who is boss?

The somewhat stressed handler still felt she was in control, and she felt accomplished. But what about the stressed dog?

Photo by J. Renzoni
Photo by J. Renzoni

So the dog ended up in sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) mode. What does that mean for the next time? Now does it become clear why it’s likely the same problem will be repeated? Why so many dogs trained in this way wash out …

Think about it.

 

Barking Help

Lot’s of you probably have had problems with your dog barking and the neighbors not being very generous about tolerating it. My daughter has just moved and her dog has decided, now in his second week there, he doesn’t like the situation very well. She, of course, has to work and so leaves him inside in his crate. She rents and has a fairly intolerant ‘pet agreement.’ So the situation is worrisome. Your situation will be different so different parts of this will be more important for you. Things that she is already using: Treat and Train remote reward and DAP collar. This is the email I sent to her.

Hi,
Thinking about you and Obie…

For him to be quiet and content; he needs to be comfortable, he needs to accept confinement and not expect that any vocalizations or actions will get him attention and there needs to be a cost of behavior penalty.
1. Food, Water, bathroom and exercise  (timing of main food so that potty breaks are needed at right times)
2. Value for being in crate (crate games). Rewards for quiet. No excited greetings or prolonged leaving.
3. Avoid back-chaining = “I bark complain, then be quiet, then get attention” — you know when this is happening as this would grow problem rather than decrease it — it’s a timing and a level of reward/attention issue
4. Multiple strategies to inform him of the cost of his behavior – penalties = no eye contact, freezing or turning away, not entering building if he’s barking, covering crate partially/completely, uncovering when he’s settled (note you don’t have to be stuck outside if you enter – don’t look, don’t talk and immediately cover crate and wait for a good settle) just like at the cottage.
5. Change exit strategy to avoid triggers or/and desensitize triggers (put on shoes, pick up stuff, run out to car at times random)

From what I saw when you were here and Obie did something you didn’t actually want repeated … your preferred response is early and somewhat excessive reward for initial small increment of desired behavior repeated multiple times (so the reward back chained to all the pieces). The first cycle of this is fine (mostly I would expect more and reward with lower key approval), the second cycle and subsequent cycles should wait for more and better and if you aren’t getting that add space but don’t lower the criteria and don’t over reward. He can/should improve at a much faster rate.

What we practiced was calmness, greater expectations and low-key reward (no or low verbals) when changing from undesired behavior to desired – because we don’t want excitement attached to the undesired actions.

My thoughts are that the problems you’re encountering now are mostly: #1 food/potty #3 back chaining

Love,

MOM

Mat Games (or how to get a dog to stick to a rug despite the door bell ringing)

Dogs are so bouncy and speedy.  Jazz can go down the six steps to the landing, touching the top step, another step two-thirds down and then she’s barking out the narrow, next-to-the-door window before the second ring. Say her name and she bounds back up the stairs. More action by the door and she’s back down to check it out. If there’s someone staring in, doggie alarm phase two goes off. A little too much action and sound.

Enter the plan to stick her to a rug. Glue, weights, magnets, velcro all of which had risks and benefits. I mean, it would have to be special glue, and she’d have to swallow the magnets and what would we do when she sheds off her velcro? And she’s already heavy enough, add weights? Her 35 pound body and springy legs can shift hefty resistance.

I kind of like the harness and pulley, she’s flying like Kathy Rigby plan. Or maybe the automatic appearing slide that reroutes stair goers to the basement, triggering a guillotine gate system blocking their return trip.

Peanut butter – hard to bark when you’re eating peanut butter. Thinking of laser targeted peanut butter delivery.

Management planning: We could block the window, add a gate at the top of the stairs and maybe at the lower level too, and change the sound of the doorbell, but where’s the fun in that?

Think about a doorbell activated dog trapping system – picture Venus flytrap velcro-like action … only faster. Or, I like the doorbell-activated treat dispenser in your princess dog bed, Madame Jazzie.  But she could rush to the afore-mentioned bed, consume her treat and be back at the door, 1, 2, 3. Unless there was the before mentioned guillotine gate or flytrap velcro in the way.

Ah, so what to do? The mundane trainer-ly plans won. Today she was stuck to her rug despite door bells, knocking, yoohoo’s, dancing, people coming and going and other dogs barking. I had a hard time getting her to move off that rug. No glue, no velcro, no guillotine gate or automatic slide, just preference and rewards delivered there over the last three weeks. Two training sessions daily or one or — well whatever, building up the time in place on that ‘special’ rug, the ability to go to her place, and finally, the distractions that might pull her off of her place. Used the Treat & Train, but could have done it by hand. The Treat & Train’s timer and measured system keeps it less random.

cartoon 001What you say? No magic? And she sticks? Yup, she sticks. She can still use more practice, but then can’t we all?

Why One Key Trainer for the Pup? – a planner and a sleuth to figure out what’s going on…

Hi everyone.

It’s springtime in Wisconsin – snowing out and getting colder today,  going the opposite direction of warm and nice, just like sometimes occurs in training classes. I thought I’d talk about the reasons for having one key trainer (and making sure everyone else in the household assists and is consistent with the training process).

This topic comes up when I have a puppy or dog in class who, instead of progressing all the way through, begins digressing or becomes more attention deficit instead of becoming better at focusing. Or if the canine becomes apathetic about learning new things. Or more aggressive or fearful when it should be going the other way. Then something isn’t right, something is bothering them – either physically or about the process.

So why does this happen? (we’ll omit the physical, since that needs to be discussed with the vet if anything seems off about their health).

*Maybe the importance, the loyalty to the trainer isn’t high enough… Maybe the food or games aren’t tied to you enough. Maybe there’s not enough engagement in the process — it’s all about the delight in the process. Maybe luring is used too much and not faded.

*Maybe there’s too much criticism – or old-style training using force. That is very deflating for the relationship. Maybe control is trying to be achieved by shouting or jerking or hitting when the dog is over-excited at home — many dogs get higher and higher in their response when this is used.

*Maybe the thing the dog loves most is not what his handler is ever offering or maybe they are offering, as a reward, something the pup doesn’t even like (like being petted on top of his head). They need to figure out a REAL reward.

*Maybe the act of being un-attentive gets better rewards or more attention or more action from their trainer. Sooo then digression or ADD gets reinforced = what’s reinforced increases.

* Maybe during non-training time they are getting rewarded (by family, environment) for things that are contrary to the training goals.

*Maybe the mechanics of offering a reward is a problem. Quick/immediate rewards are great when first teaching a behavior, but then the time between the ‘do’ and when the reward comes needs to be lengthened and secondary reinforcers built-in.

So why one lead trainer? Someone needs to sleuth out the real picture, find out the pieces and put them together. Someone needs to decide what will be trained and how and be consistent. Someone has to (as Bob Bailey said) Know what you have, know what you want and create a plan to get there. Getting too worried about the perfect why of the problem won’t help, because we won’t ever really know truly why will we.

Reggie with his fleece tug.
Reggie with his fleece tug-no stuffing in this toy.                                                 Photo – Jeanine Renzoni

Back on Wester Ave…I just gave Reggie, (the almost 10 yr old Parson Jack Russell) a stuffed toy to disassemble. I buy them a the local resale store for $.50. He enjoys destroying them extremely much. I think I’ve been too hesitant about letting him have them, although when he first came to us almost two years ago he was random in his tearing up/stuffing removal activity. I lost a two quilts and almost a couch pillow. Which led to removing tennis balls as an indoor toy (he would hide them and then tear through stuff to retrieve them), limiting options for destruction, and encouragement for retrieving games, and always closed bedroom doors (no access to bedding). And lots of training – tricks, basic cues, agility.

He’s stuffing the pieces of the toy under a dog bed and pushing it around, but not trying to rip through anything. Yay! More disposable stuffed toys in his future, maybe one each week or two?

 

Training successes, dead-ends? Have you gone to a training program, had success and then something went side-ways?

Dogs leaving work – or other stuff is more interesting than you

Other stuff is more interesting than you

&

Who’s the teacher? Being a student and trainer at the same time

Urrgh! It got my Irish up.

You must be mistaken. I would not just go sniff a Boxer's private parts. I am much too refined for that. I was investigating and you kept interfering with my important work and wanting me to jump over and go through tunnels. Mmmph.        -photo J. Renzoni
You must be mistaken. I would not just go sniff a Boxer’s private parts. I am much too refined for that. I was investigating and you kept interfering with my important work and wanting me to jump over and go through tunnels. Mmmph.                                                                                                                                   -photo J. Renzoni

Last night at agility basic class Obie decided to leave the course and me and go visit the dogs at the sidelines. The Duck Toller said, “Get out of here!” So he left. The Aussie’s people blocked him, so after a couple of hopeful dodges he left, but the Boxer … well he smelled real good and after some initial complaint didn’t seem to mind being smelled. That’s where I caught up and escorted Obie back to the course. We started one jump later so we didn’t have to look at the Boxer and that was fine that time.

Then we waited for our turn again and came up with a slightly different problem, but it ended at the Boxer again. And with slightly different variations we continued, sometimes with a great run, sometimes just at the Boxer.

I asked the Boxer’s person to block my dog, because he was having too much fun sniffing the Boxer. She made a slight attempt. Finally the Trainer came and stood in the way – problem slightly solved, at least for that rendition.

I’m a trainer, why did I have so much trouble figuring out I needed to change the set up for Obie? Which is funny because I predicted from the outset the draw of the dogs was a difficulty – he is very charmed by new dogs.

In this place I’m a student and so I’ve given up much of my training control, which makes me susceptible to following directions and cooperating even if on my own I would have changed things up. Also I wanted it to work and it did part of the time. Also I’m hesitant to give other students direction, because it isn’t my class. Also I know this class is more ‘reactive’ based than ‘proactive,’ but I still tend to cooperate. Urrgh!

Sometimes I think I need reminders like this to be more ready to take control of the situation when I’m acting as a student … of course the new piece of equipment we had just been introduced to was at the beginning of the run (so move that Boxer or block him).

Back to the real problem – dog leaving work. Obie likes food, likes tug, likes agility, but loves greeting new dogs, loves intense smells … and that’s a real problem. With the issues he’s had being noisy and upset being left in kennels (crates and outside runs) I put lots of value, games, food into his crate and kennel. I haven’t put as much into being with me (‘cuz he’s not my dog partially), but this whole thing of him leaving work is a big deal.

Plan: 1) Hand feed at least 50% of his meals with the majority of the hand feeding training being rewarded for returns to me in distracting environments (simple recalls are a no brain-er for him). We started out this morning with a loaded food cube (a game he plays vigorously) and me calling him away from it each second or third hit, clicking and rewarding and releasing him to ‘get it’ again.

2) Upgrade his delight in tug to ‘love it everywhere.’ He’s great in low distraction settings, but he’s not willing to commit to really playing if there are unknown dogs in sight … need to work up to that. We’ll start going to the park and see how far from the walking path we have to be to still play. Also go to the parking lot at the grocery or hardware store and see if we can play tug wholeheartedly.

3) Bring Jazzie down to the cover all and have turns doing some obstacles. Jazzie won’t tolerate irritating sniffing by Obie so there will not be a reward for him. Plus it will be good for Jazz to have to wait her turn.

Sometimes it takes a massive fail to trigger a plan. We’ve got a week of three times or more trainings until next class – wish us luck! Or a strategically placed Duck Toller.

I'm not sure that plan sounds ... wait a minute, a giant fail. Me?!!!    I do smell something good on the breeze though.                - photo J. Renzoni
I’m not sure that plan sounds … wait a minute, a giant fail. Me?!!!
I do smell something good on the breeze though.                                                          – photo J. Renzoni

What kind of training to do for your pup?

Home schooled puppy, puppy preschool, doggy basic, one-on-one with a trainer, web-based learning, board and train, specialized classes. There are actually a few options. One I didn’t include, and which seems all too popular, but not effective, is let the dog be a dog. This last one may or may not have an initial bout of house training and has the highest chance of needing to “re-home” him. Mostly, the shelter dogs I’ve worked with came with the above mentioned non-training system.

I've been training dogs for 46 years ... this is back in the 80s with Dago Red, he had completed his CD title and we were celebrating.
I’ve been training dogs for 46 years … this is back in the 80s with Dago Red (Airedale Terrier), he had completed his CD Obedience title and we were celebrating. He was a sweet dog.

Home schooled puppy – is the least expensive and has reasonable outcomes if you are a seasoned dog trainer. Libraries have dog training books, magazines; 4-H offers free training sessions; Internet has dog blogs and videos. Of course most seasoned trainers take their pups to several classes to get the pup used to the experience of having many dogs and people working around them. Myself – I go to puppy preschool, if I can find one, or have another family member handle the pup, while I run the class. I like 4 -6 pups in a class, and I like my pup to go to at least one of these classes – more if possible.

Puppy Kindergarten (pre-school) – is for pups with first vaccinations (usually 10 weeks – 18 weeks old). Good socialization and basic puppy handling is the goal. Puppies can learn huge amounts, they are little sponges, and comparatively easy at this stage. This is the time to have them meeting (good experiences) people and meeting other vaccinated dogs and pups. Doing well in this class is one of the best indicators of positive future interactions.

Basic Obedience class – is for slightly older pups and dogs who need the ground level training (basic cues – sit, down, come, loose leash walking, stand, touch/target, wait/stay, mat training and some tricks). I would only go to a positive reward-type class, because the traditional jerk ’em, negative system is counter productive and not nearly as fun. Mostly I home school all these cues well before I go to this level class and just use the class as a dog distracting environment, and also a place where I can see the gaps in my training. It’s hard to train new things in such an active/noisy/distracting place. When I put on these classes I keep the numbers down, usually only 4 dogs.

STAR Puppy and Canine Good Citizen (CGC) – are AKC programs with a set of prescribed behaviors that must be achieved to pass the programs. Star puppy includes 6 weeks or more of class during which accomplishments are checked off, whereas the CGC can have a class, but doesn’t have to, because it is a test of behaviors considered to show a well-behaved dog. I do offer these as I am an AKC CGC evaluator and STAR puppy is a great follow-up to puppy kindergarten.

One-on-one with a trainer – more expensive, but also much more focused and very attentive to personal needs. This works for those dogs who can’t tolerate a class situation or for those people who need more coaching than a class situation will offer. I’ve been the dog trainer for this a lot, but I’ve never been the student except with my horses – and for that I’ve done years of one-on-one. I like the immediate feedback, but you miss out on learning from others who may have a problem that you’ll have in the near future.

Web-based – I currently, and have for several years taken (paid for), web-based dog training courses. I like being able to watch and listen to International level instructors doing training. Also there are lots of free tutorials on YouTube, but the possible problem is being able to discern proper training methods … that’s true in person too. At least on the web you can freely do fast research.

Board and Train – the concept of sending your dog to a trainer and having them train him and then give him back to you. I do offer this, although I suggest people do the classes or one-on-one along with it because the relationship with the dog is very important. I think this is good for specialized training (water retrieves, agility, etc) or for people who really can’t handle their dog for whatever reason – time, physical. However, the dog learns to work with the person he is working with and so the relationship changes and grows. Plus young dogs are very malleable so even when they know something well, it can be altered based on the situation they find themselves in. It takes time and repeated behaviors for them to become habitual.

Other classes – Agility, scent training, trick/circus dog, hunting, intro to swimming … these I particularly like because they are purpose based. Dogs really get into them. They are exciting and fun. Currently I am taking an agility course with my daughter’s Doberman and he’s loving it, as am I. All you need is a reasonably well socialized dog who will pay attention to you and wants to work with you. The first class everyone expects some barking and posturing, no big deal.

FYI the scent/sniffer classes are almost non-training classes because the dog does all the work – these are excellent for those who don’t really like to train.

Problems: Anxiety, fear and over arousal make learning unlikely.

Recently I had some people with their pup want to come to a class, but when I was called outside to help them i saw a raging dog in the vehicle and I told them this venue of training wasn’t going to work. The dog was too aroused to learn anything and since no one else was even outside, what kind of level would he be at when he saw the other dogs and people?

Some dogs decide that the best defense is a good offense.

He was a bit better on his home ground, one-on-one, but he still was over-reactive, seemed to be overly concerned over minor separation and agitated upon jumping into the vehicle, even though it was just sitting in the driveway.

Each challenge needs to be achievable in order for the experience to be a benefit. Key to getting the humans understanding, I talked through and pointed out how to tell if he was calm enough to decide he was ready for a ride back and forth in the driveway – laying down, slower actions, relaxed ears and face, no whining or barking,… Perhaps the abnormal excitement, because it happened so often, became ‘normal’ to them.

The hardest part about this is getting people to slow down and see. Taking the dog over his threshold is way too easy and slows the process of improvement much.

Learned helplessness occurs when there doesn’t seem to be any right choice, so the ‘learner’ quits trying.

Fears: Some dogs run/escape, but if they can’t … Some dogs freeze.

I have a dog in class that tends to freeze as her answer to worry/fear. It’s easy for people to not notice how scared she actually is, because she’s not moving. For her to get beyond her fears she needs to know she can escape and get herself some space and that she won’t be forced into scarier and scarier situations.

Again observation is so important and when she acts bravely it’s important to reward her by giving her space (let her leave the scary zone). The competing want (from her handler) is the wish to get her over her fears, but too scary doesn’t get anyone over it. The risk of using food to lure her on, is the food will become a ‘poisoned’ cue (in that what comes next is too scary so we’re offering you food).

It’s important to find an observant trainer to help you evaluate what’s going on. If your dog isn’t an ‘easy’ dog. If as you are trying to train things aren’t getting better. If your dog isn’t wanting to work with you. If you are wanting to punish or get even or get rid of … it’s time, maybe past time. to get in someone who knows more about training dogs than you do.

Last eve I was at a house concert and a long time dog owner/handler/breeder said, “People don’t understand, you can’t get those early days back. Those first weeks and months are so important … what you do, what you train … you can’t ever get them back.” And she was right. Getting a great start is really important, it makes a difference throughout the life of your best friend, your dog.