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K-9 Prodigy

Unleash the genius in your dog

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Puppy Training Log: More Distractions

Posted on 7 August, 2015 at 11:08 Comments comments (81)
She's getting so much better with distractions. Like any dog, the answer for problems with distractions is to just keep plugging away at it!

Distraction work, oh boy!

Posted on 24 July, 2015 at 10:50 Comments comments (37)
Distractions do not HAVE to ruin your training experience with your dog! You can get through distractions! Really you can!

The key to distraction work is controlling distance. I don't care how distracted your dog gets by something. There is some distance from the distraction where your dog can still think and look at you. In today's video, you'll see Halo HIGHLY distracted by a large flock of swallows in our training space. You'll see us working through the distances until finally we can venture out into the middle of them, briefly. She got consequences for every choice she made about the distractions, and, in a nutshell, here were her choices and they were limited:

Choice #1: Go after the distraction/lunge/pull. Consequence: Handler takes her away from the area.

Choice #2: Stand there, stare at the distraction, not lunging but not paying attention to the handler either. Consequence: Continue to stand there. (This is not a consequence that many working dog trainers would offer to their dog, but because of Halo's age there is still much of the world that she needs to just "take in" on a socialization level.) For an older dog, a failure to check-in with the handler would received a different consequence.)

Choice #3: Check-in with handler, maintain connection. Consequence: Handler continues into the interesting area, also, treats!

That's it. The three choices, and each choice with its corresponding consequence. The trainers job is simply to provide the pre-decided consequence for each choice. Easy-peasy, right?

But do remember what I said about the distances. Distances are crucial because you want the dog to be able to make any one of the choices with ease. If we had started the session by just wandering smack into the middle of the birds, Halo would likely have *never* chose "Hey, I'll check in here with my handler!" It wouldn't have even been on her radar. But, a bit farther away, when the birds were slightly less distracting, she could make that choice a couple of times. After some reinforcements of that particular choice, she was more likely to make the choice again even in a harder situation. More reinforcements, and now it was getting to be a stronger and stronger behavior that could hold its own even as the situation gets tougher.distance" (you might have to set up a special training session for this.) Then go out there and work far, closer, closer, closest! Don't get closer until your dog is doing lots of good stuff at farther distances. Your consequences might be slightly different; your dogs choices might be slightly different. Figure out the choices and consequences first, then go ahead and get to work!

Puppy Training Log Week 26: "Generalization"

Posted on 19 July, 2015 at 23:53 Comments comments (82)
Did everyone see last week's training video of Halo? Wasn't she just GORGEOUS? Fluent, happy, willing, accurate. So she's trained, right?

Ha! Wrong! Not yet! There's more!

In the dog training world, there's something called "Generalization." Generalization basically means that, if the dog learns something in one environment, it's not a given that it can repeat it in a different environment. It's otherwise known as the "He only does it in the living room!" syndrome.

Dogs are highly environmental creatures. For dogs who are new to this whole "training" thing, it might take them a long time for them to generalize all their new knowledge to different places and situations.

If you work at an office, whenever there are computer upgrades or other training, they might send you to a computer lab and you would learn all the new programs and how to do them. Then you'd without any thought go back to your own office, turn on your computer, and be able to use what you'd just learned.

Not if you were a dog! If you were a dog, you might perform fluently in the computer lab...and then your own computer and just stare blankly at the screen, with literally no idea what you were supposed to be doing. That's how it'd be if you were a dog.

There's good news and bad news for you and your dog!

Bad news first: Generalization work can be REALLY tedious, and REALLY disheartening. All that hard work and then you go to the park and literally nothing, not even a "sit."

But here's the good news! 1) Dogs CAN learn to generalize, and 2) As they get more mature and savvy, they get better and better at it.

If your dog will only perform in the living room, here's what to do!

First, take your dog just to a different environment in your own house. This could be just a bedroom or the attic or something. Go over and rehearse the veeeery basics, like Sit and Stay and Attention. You might literally have to retrain each behavior. But soon your dog will be working there as well as the living room.

Next, go to your backyard, a porch or a deck. Repeat. The goal is to get the dog to do as well as it did in its original training environment.

Next, go to a low-distraction area. I like parking lots, culdesacs and very low-traffic streets. (Pavement is easier if your dog has a lot of scent distraction issues.) And repeat!

Then, go to maybe a second, though "novel" low-distraction area. Repeat! Are you getting the idea? Tedious much? Ha!

Gradually, you can start moving into more and more distracting environments. Along the way, you should start noticing that it's not taking quite as long for your dog to perform well in the new environments. Instead of taking maybe 5-6 sessions in the new environment, now maybe your dog is only taking 2-3 sessions. Soon it will be able to immediately work well, even in a brand-new place! Progress! Soon your dog will be "generalized," and your dog will work like a pro no matter where it is.

Good luck! Let me know if you get stuck!

And P.S.! This video of Halo was filmed on Thursday morning. We went back to the same park on Friday morning, Saturday morning, and by Sunday morning she was performing quite well! Not as good as in her previous environment, but I bet we'll be there in 1-2 more sessions and then we'll be off for yet another "new" place!

Puppy Training Log: Week 25

Posted on 10 July, 2015 at 18:11 Comments comments (25)

Puppy Training Log: Week 24

Posted on 3 July, 2015 at 9:26 Comments comments (73)

Friendly Men on Bicycles

Posted on 29 June, 2015 at 9:32 Comments comments (97)
In this training video, I'm working on something called "Generalization." If we say that a dog has "generalized" something, we mean that the dog understands something in all different contexts and environments. For example, sit means sit not only in the living room but also on the beach, in the car, at the vet, if your back is turned, if you are lying down on the sofa, if your spouse is giving the command instead of you, etc.

Future sports dogs like Halo must have extremely solid generalization skills because they are asked to perform at high levels in brand-new locations with all sorts of distractions. So, what we are working on is generalization.

Here's how generalization goes, at least for a sports dog (there are some slight variations for pet dogs and service dogs.) You train the actual behaviors (front, down, heel, etc) in the house or at your "home training grounds" -- you never try to train a new behavior in a new location. 

THEN you go out to a novel environment and initially you do allow the dog some acclimatization. For the sports dog, you want the dog to choose YOU. So you'll see in the video how I'm not asking Halo to work with me, and certainly not requiring it. I'm just making it a really, really good idea. The leash is preventing her from blowing me off completely, but I'm careful to try to use it as neutrally as possible.

Halo actually does start showing some engagement and wanting to work almost right away. This is great. Away we go. The work is easier out here and the rewards are higher. For a sports dog you always want them to be successful; that way they think they can never lose. Halo looks great and everything's fun and jazzy until suddenly a friendly man on a bicycle rides by and Halo, thrilled, gallops to the end of the leash and leaps up enthusiastically!

Well! First off, at the end of the day, I work with so many aggressive and fearful dogs that I take this naughtiness with a grain of salt. I'm HAPPY that she's friendly and enthusiastic to the man on a bicycle. Do you notice that he's also wearing a hat? Friendly dog, that Halo! But obviously I don't actually like the jumping-up behavior. So how would I deal with it?

When you're working out in the environment, there's some things that you can't control. I can't control whether a friendly bicyclist appears, but I CAN control whether I allow Halo to get reinforced by it. If she'd actually jumped all the way up on the man and then he'd petted her, that would have reinforced the jumping up. In training, what you DON'T reinforce is often as important as what you DO reinforce.

You'll see that as the man rides away, I'm backing up several steps with a visible treat lure. I rarely lure dogs while doing distraction work, but in this case, Halo needed some extra help as she'd never really done distraction work with bicycles and friendly strangers.

Generalization work (which was the point of today's lesson) is different from distraction work, so once the distraction was gone I made a mental note to go ahead and start distraction work any day now. Keep watching the videos and soon you'll see some bona fide distraction work training!

Puppy Training Log: Week 22

Posted on 20 June, 2015 at 10:21 Comments comments (101)

Puppy Training Log: Week 18

Posted on 15 May, 2015 at 9:52 Comments comments (51)



Puppy Training Log Week 17

Posted on 8 May, 2015 at 23:21 Comments comments (37)
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Puppy Training Log Week 16

Posted on 30 April, 2015 at 23:11 Comments comments (39)