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K-9 Prodigy

Unleash the genius in your dog

My Blog


Top Dog-Themed Vacation Ideas

Posted on 16 September, 2015 at 14:34 Comments comments (118)
Where did the summer go?!

And what happened to all my plans for traveling?!

I actually did get a few fun vacations in -- a week long trip to South Dakota to see the sights, and I finally got over to the eastern side of the state to see Crater Lake! But with summer almost over, I'm now thinking of more places I'd like to go! Here are some interesting travel ideas involving dogs that you may never have considered! 

1)  Watch the Iditarod.

The Iditarod sled dog race is one of the most famous sporting events in the world. Watch the teams start in Anchorage or complete the race 1000 miles away in Nome! Definitely on my travel bucket list.

2) Attend the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

This dog show is the granddaddy of all dog shows! The famous "Best in Show" competition at Westminster is something that all competitors dream of. It's held in New York in late winter.

3) Browse in the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog.

The world's largest collection of dog-related art, with more than 7,000 pieces! Located in Missouri, this museum also hosts various "meet the dogs" type events. And (strangely?) you can host your wedding there.

4) See the world-famous "Greyfriars Bobby" statue in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Remember the story of "Greyfriars Bobby" -- the Skye terrier who loyally remained at his master's gravesite for nearly 15 years in the 1800's? Many books and movies have been based on this loving little dog. The city of Edinburgh commemorates him with a fine statue.

5) "Call of the Wild" dog camp.

Right in our backyard! Located in Yachats River Valley, Oregon, this 1-3 day retreat allows you to bring your dog and participate in many dog-related seminars, sports and activities. Plus swimming and good old-fashioned fun! Just like going to summer camp as a kid, but with your dog as a bunkmate!

"I want to be a dog trainer!"

Posted on 7 July, 2015 at 9:35 Comments comments (440)
"I want to be a dog trainer!"

I hear that so often! It sounds like a great career, right? Long happy days spent with nice dogs and their owners, making life better for both of them? 

Most dog trainers, and I'm no exception, often get asked about how to go about making dog training a career. Here's my advice!

1) Respect the human-animal bond. Training is *all* about the human-animal bond. Sometimes training can actually make or break that bond. Sometimes you'll see that the bond has been severed (through aggression, a bite, some other serious behavior problem) and oh boy is it hard to put back together.

2) Put in your time. Remember the ol' 10,000 hours to mastery thing? It's very true! You need to be training as many dogs as possible to the highest level as possible. You need to *finish* dogs. What does finishing dogs mean? You need to get your training past the point of getting a dog to sit for cookies. It needs to get to the point where they can perform reliably, around distractions, and without reinforcers. You need to finish a leash-aggressive dog to the point where he can pass another dog on the sidewalk, *not* just can walk by another dog across a football field.

3) Have a training philosophy, but remember you're training for results. This one can be really hard. Let's say you're a clicker trainer amazed at the power of the clicker and you want to use clicker training to solve all the problems of all the dogs in the world. Now, if there's any single training tool in the world that *could* universally make everything perfect, the clicker might be a good runner-up! But alas, not every technique works for every dog. There are many, many different humane dog training techniques to use. Don't get stuck in the ol' lure versus shaping argument, which, frankly, something like 99.999999% of your clients are not going to care if your dog learns by being lured or being shaped. 

4) Be good to your handlers. You were a beginner once too!

How Dog Training is Like Marathon Training, Part II

Posted on 2 July, 2015 at 18:32 Comments comments (176)
These long runs sure are a good way to get some alone-time and really think! Adding to my previous post about this from a few days ago, here are a few more ways that "dog training is like marathon training."

1) Train honest. There are so many times when I think "Oh, I'll just turn down this street instead, it's only one block short of where I was planning to's so hot..." but if I did that, I'd only be cheating myself. I'm the one who will have to live with the consequences of "cheating" in training.

In a similar vein, if you tell your dog "sit" and he doesn't, and then you push his butt down so he's sitting and shrug, you're just cheating yourself AND your dog. If your dog doesn't sit, hold out! Wait for the sit! If you still don't get it then you have to go back and ask yourself if you need to practice more, if you need more distraction work, etc. But don't just get lazy and tell yourself "Oh, I'll let it go this one time."

2) People will help you.

Runners are some of the friendliest people I've ever met -- encouraging, kind, and knowledgeable. If I have a problem -- for example, "runner's trots," and if you don't know what that is then you ARE SO LUCKY -- then I know I can just ask an experienced runner and get some helpful feedback and advice.

Many (not all, unfortunately) dog people are the same way. Yes there *are* some snarky and judgmental dog people out there, but you don't have to listen to them. Take people's advice with a grain of salt and do further research (or ask me!) if something doesn't sound quite right, but you can get great advice from vet techs, pet sitters and friends with well-behaved dogs.

3) Training isn't always convenient. Since I'm on "summer scheduling" for dog training, I usually work with dogs in the mornings and then again in the evenings, when the temperature is the most comfortable. Guess what times that leaves me for running. Correct! The middle of the day, when the sun is at its hottest! NOT convenient. But something I've gotta do, if I want to reap the benefits later.

Lots of things about training dogs is inconvenient. If you're working with a leash aggression situation and need to drive to a big open space where you have relative control of your distance from other dogs, that's way less convenient than just leashing up and wandering your own 'hood. Polite leash walking (no pulling) requires what seems like a neverending loop of resets and honor stands. Distraction work requires cutting up training treats ahead of time and dusting off the treat pouch. I think it's best to just acknowledge, "Yeah, this is totally inconvenient, boo," and then go ahead and do it anyway.

4) You might get addicted. The addictive nature of running is legendary. In fact, you sometimes hear of people who become literally addicted to the endorphin rush "high" they experience from the run. I don't have any experience with "runner's high," but I do love the experience of running, and some days nothing seems to go right until I get my run in. I don't know if I'm actually "addicted" to running, but I sure can see how people can get that way!

Similarly, dog training is one of those things that gets more interesting and more rewarding the longer you do it. After that initial clumsy, figuring-things-out stage, and maybe minus a discouraging session every now and then, dog training may quickly become a highlight of your day. There are actually many professional dog trainers who got into the field after working a complicated dog through a serious behavioral issue. Lots of training time and BAM! -- addicted.

Happy training!

How Dog Training is like Marathon Training

Posted on 25 June, 2015 at 10:45 Comments comments (117)
This week I started training for my second marathon. I did my first marathon four years ago, so I'll really have to start from scratch for this one. As of this morning I'm several miles in, a bit sore but definitely happy.

There are SO many similarities between training a dog and training for a marathon. I wonder if it's any surprise that many runners are also dog owners and have quite well-trained dogs! Here's some of my observations of where marathoning and dog training are similar: 

1) Start somewhere, but start. Some runners start with bodies primed and fit. Some start with out-of-shape bodies and a weakness for junk food. Some even start with asthma, bad knees or other challenges. But all of them have a destination.

In dog training, sometimes we're starting with a young, healthy, temperamentally sound, agreeable dog who's going to make training a breeze. Sometimes we start with a dog who already has a lot of behavior problems. Sometimes there's even a serious behavior problem. Just getting started and making that commitment though, is what everybody has in common.

2) Do it with a plan. Even experienced runners usually involve some sort of plan for their marathon preparation. For me it's two low-mile runs a week, two medium, one long run, and two rest days, with weekly mileage increasing by no more than 10% each week.

For dogs, having a training plan can skyrocket your success. If your plan is, for example, practice indoors until it's easy for the dog, then practice in low-distraction area, then medium-distraction, then high-distraction, then you might just get your dream of a dog who can work against all distractions.

3) And then *follow* the plan. If, halfway through my marathon training I were to think "This is easy, I'm going to replace my 10-mile long run with a 20-mile long run!" I would surely suffer the consequences. I might even end up with a stress fracture or other injury! I just wouldn't be ready for it.

To use that same distraction-training example from earlier, if your dog was performing well in low-distraction areas and you decided to take him out and "test" him at Portland Saturday Market or downtown on the waterfront, or somewhere else with millions of distractions and other dogs, there's no way he could do it! Both of you would end up stressed out and disheartened. 

4) Trust the process. It's easy for a runner to self-sabotage by thinking about their ultimate goal and then shirking: "There's no WAY that I would ever be able to run 26.2 miles." And it's easy for a dog owner to self-sabotage by "There's no WAY that my dog could ever perform off-leash in distractions." What marathon training (and dog training) have taught me is that IF you truly do make an effort, follow the steps, and trust the process, eventually it WILL happen. This is very powerful. At some point you have to just trust the process. And it will get done.

Thinking about competition?

Posted on 16 June, 2015 at 11:00 Comments comments (1224)
A couple of my favorite (well, really, you're ALL my favorite LOL!) clients and I were working with their dog in Laurelhurst park and they mentioned craftily, "So! We saw in your schedule that you sent, that you have a few days off for competition...that's exciting!"

Oh! Right! Competition! Yes, there's a possibility of a Rally Obedience competition in July, with Halo. What goes into the decision of when a dog is "ready" for competition?

Let's talk about it, using Halo as an example!

First off, the dog needs to actually know how to do what it will be asked to do in the ring. She has to know it cold. Forwards, backwards, in her sleep. Halo is exceptionally strong on all the rally behaviors. The only ones I've seen her miss lately are the Halt-Sit-Walk Around Dog exercise (that's basically the "Round-the-World' sit-stay from beginning obedience class) where she sometimes thinks she's supposed to be doing a left turn in heel instead. VERY occasionally she misses a forward heel on the Halt, Sit, 1,2,3 exercise (that's the one where you heel for 1 step, halt, heel 2 steps, halt, heel 3 steps, halt.) But even those errors are rare. I think I can safely say that she knows how to do the exercises.

Second, she needs to be able to do them without treat rewards and for only praise. We're on track with this one -- we're currently doing a series of 6-10 exercises sans treats, and she seems to be sufficiently rewarded by a big praise/handler engagement funtime at the end.

Third, she needs to be able to work around distractions. Scent distractions! A judge moving around! Dogs lingering outside the ring! Distractions everywhere! We're "kind of" on track here. When Halo's on, she's really on. Her focus, however, isn't 100% reliable. If there's a problem in the ring, my guess is that it's going to be a focus problem.

The tentative plan is to enter her in the competition, and then if it doesn't feel right for any reason (if she appears stressed, or if she just completely falls apart) to scratch her from the competition and just hang out and soak in the atmosphere. If all seems well, then we'll do the course with the goal to be have a good time and make sure she's having fun in the ring. That's the plan! Wish us luck!

Impromptu dance party at the trainer's house!

Posted on 30 November, 2014 at 19:46 Comments comments (3)

Thursday Fun: Training Bloopers

Posted on 16 October, 2014 at 13:28 Comments comments (46)
Just a little fun for a Thursday! Even a professional can make an occasional training error!

"Your dogs must be perfect!!!"

Posted on 9 October, 2014 at 19:16 Comments comments (2)
"I bet your dogs are perfect!"

Many clients have said this to me! Well, yes...and no.

My dogs are well-trained, but they are not robots! Yes, they know a lot of "stuff." They're pretty reliable. Yet, like any dog, they've got their strengths and weaknesses.

Charlie the pit bull, for example, still struggles with his "doggieness." He love, love, LOVES other dogs! Many pit bulls struggle with impulse control and Charlie's no exception. He's able to contain himself and not strain against the leash to go visit other dogs, but sometimes his excitement will come out as vocalization. Not barking exactly, but an odd sound that's a cross between yodeling and sobbing. I think it's actually quite a funny sound, but a yodeling dog is far from perfect!

Daisy the Rottweiler (she's not actually "my" dog, but she lives with me) was a shy puppy who grew into a shy adult. We believe it's an issue of genetics, as she went through all her puppy socialization benchmarks at the proper age, with the proper reactions, no traumatic experiences, etc. She's making huge strides, but she will still sometimes spook at things. If I'm training her anything that involves special equipment (jumps, pivot platforms, etc) I have to plan for some extra time for her to get comfortable with these objects.

Things like this are pretty typical issues that can be "issues" with any dog. Just because I'm a trainer doesn't mean that I magically get perfect dogs! Having "imperfect" dogs is actually a benefit to myself as a trainer -- I'm definitely much more empathetic towards dog owners who do everything right and their dogs still have sticky spots! All dogs have sticky spots! It's how we support our dogs and work through them on problems that really counts.

I like to say that my dogs are professional "test" dogs -- if there is a new training technique that I would like to try, they are always the first dog that I attempt to use it on. Charlie, for example, was my test dog from waaaaaay back when I was interning at a service dog organization. To this day, if I ever became disabled I could depend on Charlie to retrieve things, open and close doors, and turn lights on and off! When I got into scentwork training, he stepped up as the designated sniffer. Using positive training techniques, I believe, has helped him with this challenge of continuing to learn new things.

Sometimes a trainer's dog is also called on to help other, undersocialized dogs learn to get along and interact with dogs. This can be so stressful for the "working" dog and not all dogs have the appropriate temperament! Charlie, with his excitement level around other dogs, is not a good fit for this kind of work. Daisy, who excels at dog-dog interactions and has great social skills, can do it in a very controlled environment, but I need to monitor her anxiety levels about other things in the environment. Most trainers who have socialization-helper dogs like this are very careful with what they ask their dogs to do and monitor the dogs carefully for signs of stress. I think this is not unlike a social worker or emergency room doctor taking care to avoid burn-out!