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K-9 Prodigy

Unleash the genius in your dog

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Questions from Class Series - #1

Posted on 19 April, 2017 at 12:33 Comments comments ()
Last night kicked off spring term's Beginning Obedience Level 1 class. We're off and running! Classes are full of good questions, and I have the idea to make a running series of blog posts highlighting a question from each night's class.

So we'll jump right in!

Context: We were practicing "automatic attention" -- where the dog looks at you and pays attention to you (without you needing to give an attention command) in distracting or novel situations. For beginners, this is done by waiting for the dog to look at you, then marking "Yes!" and treat.

Question: "My dog is looking at me, but he's also jumping up. He's looking at me AS he's jumping up! So do I reward it because it's attention, or do I *not* reward it because it's jumping up?"

This is a FANTASTICALLY GOOD QUESTION. I looked over, and sure enough, her Chihuahua was leaping into the air as he looked at her. The jump and the look were truly happening at the same time, so there was no possibility of "just try to mark really quickly, after he's looked but before he's jumped." There are risks either way you look at it here -- if you *don't* reward the attention/jumping up, you will lose the jumping up -- but you also might lose the attention. If you *do* reward it, you will keep the attention -- but you might also keep the jumping up.

I think that to answer this question, you have to know what's more important to you at this very specific moment. Is it more important that the dog is giving you attention, or is it more important that the dog is not jumping up? Jumping up is obviously an unfortunate habit that can be hard to break, and we definitely don't want to be giving cookies for it... but attention is possibly THE most important foundation skill a dog can have. Trainers have to make this kind of decision all the time, and you will too! I ultimately said for now, go ahead and DO reward. Here are some of the factors that went into my decision.

1) It is usually possible to slowly shape away the bouncing while keeping the attention.
2) The high activity, energy and fun level is something that I want to keep in the dog; it actually will figure in waaaay down the road when weaning off treats.
3) In this complex environment (obedience class) I want the dog to be successful at something right away. If he were to check out and give up now, we would not have a good tone set for the rest of the course.
4) A plethora of "four-on-the-floor," non-jumping, polite greeting, and other calm-related lessons are coming up very soon on the agenda and we can use those to also tone down and reduce his general bounciness.

So, in this case DO reward, but with the following qualifications: 1) When you treat, do it calmly and low on the ground -- treat delivery is highly influential to how the dog ultimately performs the behavior, and 2) Keep a very close eye for non-jumping check-ins (I promise, they do happen somewhere and you can catch them, reward them, and keep them) -- soon you will be getting a mix of jumping ones and non-jumping ones, at which point you can reward only the non-jumping ones.

Again, great question! How would you all handle this with *your* dog? Remember, answers may vary, depending on the dog!

Obedience Classes -- the inside scoop

Posted on 5 May, 2015 at 10:59 Comments comments ()
I love teaching class through Portland Community College -- I share a lot of their vision and mission as far as having everything geared toward student success and taking students needs into account. As far as I'm concerned, PCC is one of the most progressive educational institutions I've ever come across. Every time I'm on campus, there's some new program -- today I saw an announcement that there's a "family study room." How brilliant! For parents who lack child care and are forced to bring their kids to campus on occasion. Some other campuses might forbid this, citing the (very real) reasons that the children might be disruptive to other students or that campus was not an appropriate place for kids. But PCC managed to support both the needs of the parents AND the needs of the other students in the best way ever.

But enough about PCC -- let's talk about dogs! Because K-9 Prodigy is basically the TAG (Talented And Gifted) version of dog training companies, teaching at a college makes perfect sense for me -- and taking your dog through college-level courses just might make sense for you! If you're curious about the classes we do -- here's the inside scoop!

Beginning Obedience Level I is pretty similar to lots of other obedience classes. The dogs learn all the "basics" -- leash-walking without pulling, how to sit and lie down, come when called, stay, how to pay attention, and how to start distraction work. You'll learn the training techniques of "capturing" and "shaping." This is a great course for true beginners -- if you've never had a dog before, if you have no idea what you're doing, etc.

Beginning Obedience Level II is where we start deviating from traditional obedience courses. The main focus here is distractions, and getting your obedience skills out into the "real world." There's a world of difference between a sit-stay in a carefully structured class when you're wearing your treat pouch and the instructor is hovering over your shoulder... and a sit-stay in the real world where a squirrel is running by, you've just dropped the leash and your toddler is running in the opposite direction! (In case you're wondering, good ol'-fashioned dog handling skills really come into play here. What do you cue? "Stay" to hope the dog remains seated? "Come" pre-emptively, before he can take off after the squirrel? Would you cue and then take off after the toddler? Would you just grab the kid and let the dog fend for itself? This is where we figure stuff like that out.)

The second part of Beginning Obedience Level II is off-leash work. Yep, you heard that right. I stick off-leash work in the beginners curriculum. Why? Because part of moving on from "beginners" level is that the dog has to understand that *you* are center of everything. And *you* have to understand that the leash is not the primary way you communicate with your dog.

You can do this. In fact, we've never yet had a student who couldn't do it! Now of course I keep everything safe. In the indoor classes, you're in an enclosed area. And in the outdoor classes, I've got your dog on a lightweight 30-foot line. But the experience is the same -- off-leash freedom and control!

Beginners Level II is really designed for the dog who is obedient in the house and when there's not a lot of distractions, or obedient "most of the time." If you've done training at home or been through another class but feel that your dog is still rough around the edges, or if you'd like to learn a structured way to begin introducing off-leash work, this is the class for you!

Intermediate Obedience is a whole new ballgame. This class is preparation for ongoing and advanced training. I like to think of it as "skill-building." The curriculum includes jumping, scent discrimination, directed retrieve, and targeting! The dogs who do really thrive in this class are usually active, energetic dogs whose beginning training has all been done through positive methods. It's a TON of fun, and is a great place for if you've ever wanted to know "How are more advanced skills taught?"

The "problem dog" classes at PCC are humans-only lecture style class. We get right down to the nitty-gritty. There's one class looking specifically at fear and aggression in dogs, and there's one "Problem Pooch" class for other behavioral problems. The goal of the aggression class is for every student to get an aggression management plan which they can start using immediately with their dogs, and in "Problem Pooch" students learn the "training toolkit" to start fixing any behavior problem.

I hope you join us for a PCC class! Just go to and click on "Community Education," then "Home and Garden," then "Pets" and you can register online -- it's so easy!