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K-9 Prodigy

Unleash the genius in your dog

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Peek at the Trainer's Homework #3

Posted on 4 December, 2015 at 10:33 Comments comments (376)
Besides the Advanced Shaping course I'm taking for continuing education this term, I'm also in a class called "CJ Games," which covers things like working with dogs who can not function without immediate rewards. None of my own dogs have this issue, although it's very common with client dogs -- sometimes they've been through multiple obedience classes and can do fairly advanced behaviors -- but if there's no treat in the hand, it's "Huh? You want me to do what?" It seems to be slighly breed-related, with more independent dogs such as Akitas and some terriers having this more commonly than other dogs. It's a frustrating problem for owners. I've got lots of training tools already up my sleeve for this issue, such as "engagement training" -- but the CJ games promise to add something new!

I'm working Halo in this class, though like I said she can easily work without food rewards, including in the show ring! Part of the "job" of a trainer's dog involves working through coursework with the trainer, so she might as well get started at that! (She just turned 1 year old, BTW.)

This first exercise, Impulse Control Around Food, is proving difficult for her. In fact, Chasing Food/Pattern Games is a training method exactly opposite to this one, and I frequently use it with obedience dogs because it jazzes them up and makes them look fancier. (It's also one of the basic methods to work with dogs who are obsessed with chasing squirrels and the like.) 

Halo had some difficulty with this exercise, probably because she's been trained in Chasing Food/Pattern Games. We're going to repeat the exercise until she can keep her body/head more still and shows a little more self-control and restraint. Note that I'm not *commanding* her to Sit or Wait or Leave It. It's an *internal* locus of self-control and restraint that she's learning; not a handler-directed one.

Peek at the Trainer's Homework #2!

Posted on 30 November, 2015 at 12:39 Comments comments (552)
I wasn't very satisfied with yesterday's "baseline" homework for our Advanced Shaping course, so I re-did it. This time sans all the extraneous hand and body movements, though there were very tiny almost imperceptible movements that I still caught myself doing.

"What's going well": The stillness is definitely helping. My reward position is still helping. Charlie looks good.

"What could be better": Still a tiny bit of handler movement. The treats were awkward and clumsy to get out of my pocket; more convenient treats would be better. Next time I will set up session in a part of the yard that's not riddled by holes (um...Halo? We need to talk about these holes.) From the video I could see that there is not enough clarity on what he is to do with his feet. Should they be on my feet? Off to the left or right side? One on the left and one on the right? My spur of the moment training decision was to just worry about the shoulder for now, and we can do the feet later, but I may be wrong. Time will tell.

Peek at the Trainer's Homework! #1

Posted on 29 November, 2015 at 18:52 Comments comments (509)
It is very important for professional trainers to keep up their knowledge and skills by continuing to take workshops, courses and classes!

I have so much fun in my continuing education, and I know it helps keep me sharp and on my toes. Over the next six weeks I'll be taking part in a few courses and I thought it would be a good idea to share my "homework" on my blog -- in solidarity, of course! You all aren't the only ones with homework!

This course is "Advanced Shaping." Shaping is a technique that I use very frequently. It is one of those techniques which always has room for improvement! 

This homework assignment was actually given out before class even began. It's what's known as a "baseline," or the "test" portion of the "Test, train, test" improvement program. It's not my dog being tested here, though -- it's me!

The homework was to do a "simple shaping session, doesn't have to be anything fancy." Then answer the questions of "What was working?" and "What wasn't working?"

My homework is above, and in answer to the questions:

1) "What was working": Charlie is a super happy dog, always willing and very smart! He can get a tad bit frantic during clicker sessions and today he was much calmer, which I appreciated. Where I put the treats worked too, either feeding in position, or out of position so that he could get back into position.

Isolating the Side Pass Right and clicking it separately from the shoulder target/pressure worked. He got the shoulder target first and then the side pass a little later (trimmed from this video) and then we would have just had to put the two together.

2) "What wasn't working?": As I noted in the videos, my body was moving quite a bit, and so were my hands. All my dogs are super-sensitive to my body movements and I can elicit all sorts of things so easily with just things like a slight shoulder rotation or pointing moving my hand a couple of inches. For good shaping technique though, these are no-no's. You should stay as still as possible -- no "hinting" or "helping."

Puppy Training Log: Week 37

Posted on 14 October, 2015 at 12:07 Comments comments (103)
This little dog is looking so nice! Hard to believe she's not even a year old yet.

Puppy Training Log: Week 36

Posted on 1 October, 2015 at 13:35 Comments comments (73)

The Joy of Rally

Posted on 24 September, 2015 at 12:55 Comments comments (90)
Sometimes Rally Obedience gets a bad rap -- it's looked down on by some dog folks as "too easy, too lax, too informal." You're allowed to encourage the dog, repeat commands, etc. The dog is even allowed to be on leash throughout the entire course and the heeling does not have to be precise!

And this is sometimes true -- I was disappointed at the last Rally show I attended. All the heeling was jerky, the sits were crooked, and many of the dogs looked worried or shut down. Done well, however, Rally is a beautiful, fluent display of elegance and joy -- much like dressage in the equine world. Just because the sport is easier -- just because you are "allowed" to repeat commands, for example -- does not mean that you should not train for immediate, tail-wagging response to a single command. Just because you are allowed to coach and prompt your dog throughout the course does not mean that you shouldn't train for your dog to accept quiet, subtle handling. YOU make the rally course as formal and beautiful, or as informal and sloppy as YOU train for!

Today's video is 10-month-old Halo's first attempt at a rally "course." There are only six signs instead of 10-15, because I wanted to make sure her first experience was successful. Also, look at how small the space is! (It's also quite uneven.) Practice in small spaces can help your precision -- if you only have room for 1 or 2 steps, there's no room to get it wrong.

I'm still on the fence about Halo's readiness for her first Rally trial (tentatively scheduled for late October.) She had no trouble with the cones though, so that's a big plus!

Socialization is important...but so is protecting your dog!

Posted on 18 September, 2015 at 13:06 Comments comments (15)
In this week's video, feel free to skip to about 1:35 -- this is where the "action" that I'm going to talk about in this blog starts.

Is it important to socialize your puppy? Yes. Is it important to continue your dog's socialization as it gets older (especially during that tricky "adolescent" phase of about 8-14 months.) Yes!

I love the little kids in my North Portland neighborhood. They're all great kids! Unfortunately, in a lower-income neighborhood, many children's exposure to dogs have been unpleasant to say the least, and they've developed a corresponding fear of dogs. (One little girl that I talked with said that her (loose) pet dog was run over by a bus when she was 4, a relative was chased down by a police K-9 when she was 5, and she herself was bitten by an aggressive yard dog when she was 6 and again by her cousin's dog when she was 7, and chased by another loose dog just a few months ago!)

This little guy, though absolutely adorable, does not have what I'd consider appropriate skills to allow to meet and/or pet the majority of dogs. He'd picked up the stick after watching his (older) friend throw a stick for Halo to fetch, but then he seemed to be holding the stick pre-emptively, to ward off any possible attacks. His bounciness and up-and-down movement, and even the quick darting of his hands towards and away from Halo would seem threatening to many dogs, and playful/chase-inducing to many others. His older sister confirmed that he was afraid of dogs.

This is where you need to take stock of your socialization efforts and see exactly what your dog needs from you at any given time. In any given situation, what are you actually trying to accomplish with your dog?

For a dog who is nervous around children, movement or sticks, you'd simply get yourselves away from the child, and try again with a calmer child or with a child whose parent is there to help encourage proper behavior. These dogs need to be built up slowly, with calm children and the involvement of multiple adults.

For the majority of stable dogs who do not need to learn how to behave around bouncy unknown children with sticks, you might just encourage the dog to look at the child (from a distance), maybe ask for and reward a sit, and then a cheerful request to "Let's go!" and a reward for the Let's Go.

For a dog like Halo, who is known to adore children and who will be expected to work and focus around a great variety of experiences, you would do just what I did: allow for a medium-length encounter with you providing the majority of direction and heavy rewarding for correct behavior.

For a dog whose career is aimed for therapy work or service work with children, you would provide for an extended-length encounter with this little boy and allow the dog a little more decision-making (for example, instead of cueing the "down" so the child felt safe to approach, you would instead let the dog figure out that lying down encouraged the child to come nearer. You'd be there to curb any poor decision your dog makes, but the dog would be free to decide. Obviously this requires a dog with an extremely good basic temperament.) You would offer a little more coaching to the child (an important skill for the handler) in how to best approach the dog. YYou would give the dog the space, time and encouragement to understand this particular child and how to best interact with it. I can not say enough about the emotional intelligence of therapy dogs and their skills in deciphering the environment and deciding on their own how to best proceed!

When socializing a puppy and when continuing socialization with a young dog or even an adult dog, YOU are responsible for 1) Making sure that your dog feels "safe" around whatever you are trying to socialize it to, and 2) Making sure that your socialization efforts fit your ultimate goal in what you want to do with your dog.

Puppy Training Log Week 33: Differences in Perspective

Posted on 15 September, 2015 at 12:38 Comments comments (22)
You can literally never do too much distraction training! Especially "dog distraction."

Halo is conflicted with her dog-distraction work. A young, friendly dog like Halo wants to immediately greet and offer appeasement behaviors ("appeasement" behaviors is anything to indicate to the other dog or person that she is harmless and non-threatening.) From her perspective, this is the most crucial thing she can and should do in this type of situation. 

From my perspective, of course, I want her to ignore the other dogs and focus on me. She understands this but her instinct makes it difficult for her. You can almost see the conflict in her eyes! Wanting to stick with me...but *needing* to go meet the other dogs!

How can we help our dogs work through things like this?

First, keep it easy. If it were not a couple of easy-going pit bulls in the yard, I wouldn't ask her to do it at all. If the neighbor dog was behaving aggressively (unfortunately, many "yard dogs" ultimately become quite aggressive but these two dogs are nice and socialized) then I would not have asked Halo to be stopping, sitting, and taking her eyes off the dog. I would have let her look at the dogs, get the information she needed, and then choose to get out of there if she wanted. The last thing you want is for your dog to have to "choose" between obedience to you and safety! Never ask for obedience unless your dog feels safe in the environment.

Secondly, patience. Yes, this was literally an entire training session where we walked back and forth over a half of a block. It takes time for dogs to really settle in and focus. If I'd just popped a treat in Halo's mouth and called it good for one tiny check-in, it would not have had the same effect as waiting for and rewarding true, 100% attention.

Finally, "repeat." After this lesson, I'd expect Halo to have good focus and attention to me around...these two other dogs. In this tiny 1/2-block section of North Portland. I'd *not* expect it to then immediately carry over to all other dogs, in all other yards, in all other places. Eventually it will carry over and be generalized to other contexts. But we're going to have to do the same sort of exercise multiple times in other locations before it does.

Puppy Training Log Week 32

Posted on 7 September, 2015 at 10:12 Comments comments (18)
We're getting closer to our show ring goals! This actually looks pretty good; here's what we're going to continue to work on:

1) Reduce and then eliminate the need for "look around" and "warm up" in the show ring.

2) Extend the number of behaviors in a sequence from 4-5 to 10-15.

3) Vamp down the praise/jumping at the end of a correct sequence.

4) More fluency with the halt-sit-down combo.

5) Start adding in people/dogs as "spectators" around the edges of the ring.

This is actually quite a lot of work! Wish us luck!

Puppy Training Log: Week 31

Posted on 6 September, 2015 at 11:00 Comments comments (73)
If you have ever studied the different learning styles of humans, you know that some people learn best by listening (audio learners), some by seeing (visual learners) and some by movement (kinetic learners.)

Dogs are most likely "kinetic learners." Some of my current studies are looking at ways to involve more movement in training, so the dogs will learn better. I can't wait to share this stuff with you!