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K-9 Prodigy

Unleash the genius in your dog

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Testing

Posted on 20 February, 2019 at 13:55 Comments comments (62)
Testing again...the blog has been acting up!

Testing, testing!

New Training Frontiers: Mimicry Part III

Posted on 11 February, 2019 at 16:48 Comments comments (50)
Still hanging in there after the first two posts of this series? Great!

If you’ve been playing along with the exercises in the previous post, and all seems to be going well – your dog is correctly stationed and waiting while you do your behavior demonstrations, and then responding to whatever verbal cues he knows for the various behaviors, and you’ve repeated sessions several times so it all looks very easy, go ahead and do the following to check your dogs understanding of mimicry so far:

First, do about 2-3 repetitions of your basic pattern so far: station the dog, perform the behavior, cue “Your turn!”, cue behavior. Is your dog keen and eager and quick to perform? (Wait another day or so if he seems tired or not into training.)

If all is well, then for the next behavior, station then dog, perform the behavior, cue “Your turn!” and…pause. Maybe 1 or 2 seconds. It’s very likely that you’ll see the dog begin to initiate the behavior. Mark instantly, once you see the initiation – don’t, for example, wait until the dog has completed the entire “spin” before marking. You want the dog to know instantly that he’s right, after taking this leap of faith in performing on just the mimic cue.

If your 1-2 seconds go by, and the dog is still stationed, go ahead and cue the behavior, and reward just like normal. Then move on to the next behavior, but again pause after the “Your turn!” Again, mark right away once you see the dog begin to do the behavior.

Repeat. The dog should soon be confidently copying your movements on your cue “Your turn!” Remember, this is all still with behaviors that your dog has already been trained and already knows how to do. You’ll learn how to introduce a brand-new behavior…soon…

Too much science and not enough action?

Posted on 5 February, 2019 at 18:57 Comments comments (55)
Dog trainers current on modern training methods make a big deal of science; it’s really important. The laws of learning state that such and such will result in such and such; rewards will tend to increase a certain behavior; punishments will tend to decrease a behavior; there are primary and secondary reinforcers; operant conditioning will always have a classical conditioning tagalong, etc. This kind of stuff is interesting to read and of course, really, really important. I’m definitely not suggesting that people should ignore the science behind dog training: in fact, it’s one of the first things you should start to wrap your mind around, if possible.

But what I am suggesting is that science, knowledge, and understanding of dog behavior and training theory by itself are not going to make you a good dog trainer. It’s definitely part of it, but just reading, understanding and theorizing are not enough. Along with the theory and knowledge, you also need some good, old-fashioned, hands-dirtying, sweaty WORK. As in, hours. Hours spent actually working with dogs and actually achieving training goals. Hours spent messing up, training things you don’t want and then having to un-train them, training things that you’ll later find will interfere with other things you want to train. The 10,0000 hours to mastery…is really a thing. This is where you’ll find out that you don’t actually have the perfect sense of timing that you know from the books is so important. This is where you find out what “consistency” actually means. But it’s also where you develop that perfect sense of timing. It’s where you develop the discipline and habit to be consistent. It’s where you gain a better understanding of all your theory and knowledge, because you see it happening and working right before your eyes.

If you’re interested in dog training, then yes; read about dogs, watch the videos and go to the seminars. But if you find that you’re on Facebook talking about the pros and cons of various techniques and methods, rather than actually out and about and DOING the various techniques and methods, stop and get up, put your shoes on, get your dog, and go do it.

Dog Sitters Part II: Being One

Posted on 14 January, 2019 at 18:05 Comments comments (7)

Some of you have taken up or be interested in doing occasional dog-sitting, or you might find yourself being asked by a friend to watch their dog for a while, or you might be temporarily between dogs and considering dog-sitting or fostering to get some extra doggy joy into your life.
 
Dog-sitting is not all cuddles and romps and extra pocket money, though. These will be dogs who you might not know very well, they will be upended into a different environment and a different routine, and their owners will be temporarily gone, so it can be a tough time for dogs and their behavior can reflect this.
 
Here are several tips for you to handle your dog guest with safety, courtesy and hospitality!
 
Get as much information about the dog from the owner as you possibly can. Present a positive, non-judgmental attitude; many owners will feel guilty if they believe they are doing something incorrectly with the dog (“I know I shouldn’t let him on the bed, but…”) or are a little ashamed of behaviors their dog does. The truth is, most behavior issues are very common and nothing to be embarrassed about. Put the owners at ease by letting them know this and know that you won’t judge.
 
No matter what the age and training level of the dog, your house must be puppy-proofed, as if you are bringing home a new puppy who knows nothing. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, whatever manners a dog knows and obeys in his own home may not automatically transfer over to a new house/environment. In training terms this is called “generalization,” and means that, for example, even if the dog knows not to jump up on its own kitchen counters and eat food, it might not automatically understand that the same rule is in place for your own kitchen counters. It hasn’t learned anything about the availability of food on your own kitchen counters; it’s naive about this.
 
 
Secondly, due to the change in the dogs environment, it might regress for things like chewing. It might be testing boundaries, but most likely is that the dog is under a mild (or, depending on the dog, a major) stress and stress-related behaviors such as chewing will pop back up. So err on the safe side, and set the dog up to not make any house manners related errors right off the bat.
 
Shy dogs might need restricted space for the first couple of days, until they feel confident enough to venture out through the whole house. Usually you can boost confidence in a shy dog rapidly by giving it a very slow acclimation to your house. Very confident dogs, on the other hand, can usually have a walk-through right away. It’s fine to keep the dog on leash for this as you walk through the house, into all rooms that he’ll have access to, and then go outside and walk the fenceline.
 
Use good animal care procedures during the dogs entire stay. Many problems and situations arise because people do not use correct procedures. For example, proper household dog management involves feeding the dogs separately. In many households, the dogs are completely fine and everyone eats side by side, but for an unknown dog, even if you suspect he’d be just fine, go ahead and follow the separate feeding procedure anyway. There’s no harm in this and it may prevent a fight. A daily check of your fenceline, daily quick check of the dogs health, and equipment check (collar, leash) whenever you take the dog out should be among your regular routines.
 
Make sure to stay in touch with the owner! A text message with a cute photo each day will be nice. Reply to the owner’s text messages and phone calls immediately; if this isn’t likely to be possible let the owners know up front – “I have my phone on silent while I’m doing computer work and dinnertime, so I’ll reply as soon as I turn it on again” – so that the owner doesn’t send a check-in message at 7 PM and then panic until 8:30 PM when she doesn’t hear from you. The owners love their dogs, and it’s normal for them to be worried and miss them while separated! Be very understanding about this.

New Training Frontiers: Mimicry Part II

Posted on 7 January, 2019 at 17:28 Comments comments (7)
New Training Fronttiers: Mimicry Part II
 
In the last post we discussed the prerequisites needed for starting Mimicry training. If you’re following along and have worked on isolating six behaviors that your dog can perform fluently on verbal cue alone, and you’ve figured out how you’re going to do your stationing and have practiced that with your dog, you can go ahead and get started!
 
Pick three of the six behaviors to start with.
 
Station your dog.
 
Perform one of the behaviors (for example, spin in a circle.)
 
Pause.
 
Cue “Your turn!” or “Copy!” or “Do it!” (whichever you’d like, just remember to be consistent.) Within one second, add your verbal cue for the behavior (“Spin!”)
 
Mark and reward when the dog completes the spin.
 
Move on to your next behavior, for example, lie down.
 
Station your dog.
 
Demonstrate lying down.
 
Pause.
 
Cue “Your turn!” and within one second, add your verbal cue “Down.” Mark and reward.
 
Keep your sessions short; this work is actually pretty hard for most dogs. Make sure to end your sessions before the dog gets tired or bored, even if this means you only do one or two repetitions of each behavior. Never repeat the same behavior more than twice; for example you could do a Spin, then a Down, then a Jump, then a Down – but don’t do a Spin, then a Down, then a Down, then a Down.
 
Do about five sessions with this exact structure, and you should start to notice something that will seem magical….
 
Then check back for the next post in this series!!

New Training Frontiers: Mimicry Part 1

Posted on 3 January, 2019 at 13:22 Comments comments (11)
It’s a fun, yet complicated time to be a dog trainer, as there are constantly new methods and techniques being developed. One that I’m currently working on is “mimicry.”
 
Mimicry is simply learning something by copying it. Humans do it all the time: “Do this,” I can say, and demonstrate a task like shortening a leash or presenting a hand target, and the person can immediately do it. Dogs, on the other hand, don’t really get this. In fact it was long thought that they couldn’t learn by imitation or mimicry at all, other than very basic things that young puppies could pick up from their mother.
 
We are finding that this really isn't correct -- the truth is that dogs can definitely learn through imitation. It’s not a natural learning mechanism for them, but they can be taught the concept of watching a demonstration, then repeating the behavior. This is very exciting for most trainers, as it means that now there can be a very fast way of teaching very complicated behaviors.
 
Here’s a little bit about my experience working through this training procedure for the first time with my 4-year-old Golden retriever, Halo. And there should soon be some videos up on the Facebook page so you can see it in action! If any of you want to try this training method out, I’m definitely happy to help!
 
There are prerequisites. Your dog must have about six distinct, stand-alone behaviors that it knows on verbal cue only. This is crucial. So many times we think that our dog knows a specific cue or command, but it’s actually relying on our body language or some feature of the environment in order to do the behavior. Your dog has to know what to do when you stand completely motionless and say the word. It’s best if your stand-alone behaviors include some that the dog can do independently (spin, lie down, wave, etc) and some that involve an object (retrieve, jump, fly, any of the Parkour behaviors etc.) The other important thing is that a human can replicate any of the behaviors.
 
Practice the prerequisites, aiming towards no body language or other cues – verbal only! – until your dog is very quick to do the behavior – you want him to leap into action immediately on your verbal cue.
 
Separately, practice a “stationing” behavior – “Wait” or “stay” – this will hold the dog in one place while you do your demonstration for the dog to copy. Practice a lot of handler movement while the dog is working on stationing – jump around, roll around, run around – so the dog gets used to remaining in place while you’re doing things.
 
After you’ve got everything planned out and your dog is fluent with the verbal cues for its six behaviors and can stay at an observation station while you do stuff, you’ll be ready to move on to Phase II of Mimicry training – so stay tuned!

Dog Sitters: Finding One or Being One Part II: Finding One

Posted on 13 December, 2018 at 18:23 Comments comments (9)
It’s (gasp) closing in on the Holiday Season! If you’re a dog owner and want to travel, you now have to figure out where your dog will stay while you were gone (if you can’t bring him with you, anyway.)
 
Gone are the days when your one and only option was to leave your dog in a metal kennel run in a big professional kennel building. Now there are tons of choices. There’s in-home pet-sitting, where someone stays at your house while you’re gone. Drop-in pet sitting, where the dog gets multiple visits per day but is alone overnight. Board-and-train, where the dog receives training every day during his stay in either a kennel or at the trainer’s home. In-home boarding, where the pet sitter will bring your dog home with them. Overnight daycare, where the dog plays all day with other dogs in a daycare setting and then sleeps in a kennel at the location overnight. Daycare with in-home boarding, where the dog attends daycare during the day and spends the night at a staff member’s house.
 
So many options! Which one’s best for your dog?
 
For a dog who’s nervous and shy, I’d lean towards an in-home pet sitter. This person will stay at your house and can provide your dog with a schedule as close to normal as possible. It will be especially helpful if you can arrange for your dog to spend some time with the sitter beforehand, accompanying them on a walk together or sending them into the backyard to play. You should feel confident that your in-home sitter will respect your home and belongings, as well as any instructions you have about the care of your dog.
 
For the dog who’s happy-go-lucky and loves everybody and has lots of energy and loves to play, a daycare with overnight boarding option can be a very good one. He will probably have a thoroughly good time while you’re gone, playing all day long with other dogs and interacting with the kennel staff. Inspect the kennel runs to make sure they’re clean and safe, but honestly your dog will probably be sleeping so hard all night that he won’t even notice. Your confident dog will probably do fine with in-home boarding, too – if he’s very high-energy, try to pick a sitter who owns a dog he can play with.
 
For a dog who has serious behavior or medical problems, you will want to go with a professional kennel. If your dogs behavior issues involve aggression towards other dogs, you will need to seek out a kennel that has private “suites”, or rooms with solid walls and doors and no physical or visual access to other dogs.
 
Board-and-train is usually wildly expensive, and I don’t usually recommend it for novice owners (who are likely to receive a well-started dog back, and then have no idea how to maintain or continue the training, so the dog usually reverts back to how it was) but sometimes it can be a good choice. If you have to spend the money to board your dog anyway, then paying extra for training might be a good idea; it will also benefit your dog by giving him something to do during the day and providing mental and physical stimulation. The main caveat with board-and-train though, is to make sure that you have a thorough understanding of what the training methods are going to be and what exactly the trainer is going to do with the dog. Good training takes time, and many of the “Cure Aggression in Two Weeks!” and other quick-fix or boot camp type programs involve a huge amount of e-collar, pinch and prong collar, treadmills and flooding, and other heavy-handed and aversive methods. If you are not very careful in selecting your program you may get a shell-shocked, vacant version of your dog back, and there can be very serious long-term side effects from this kind of training. Best advice is to only consider board-and-train if you really, really trust the trainer and are clear on how exactly the dog will be trained.
 
If your dog has medical needs, many vet offices offer boarding services. If your vet doesn’t, ask for a referral to a clinic that does.
 
If you do decide to go with the pet-sitter, instead of a traditional kennel, now you’ll have to screen your sitter. Here are some things to think about:
 
I would not choose a pet-sitter who does not have a car. In the event of an emergency, how would she transport my dog to the vet?
 
If my dog was big and strong, I’d try to choose a sitter who is big and strong. Even if my dog walks nicely on the leash for me, that might not translate to walking nicely on the leash for someone else. Obviously, there’s leash skills you can use so that you can still manage and control a large dog, even if you’re a tiny person. But unless I’m positive that my sitter has those leash skills and has good enough timing and coordination to use them, I’m going to pick a sturdy person. Also, if my dog were to jump up on someone, I’d prefer the person not actually get knocked down.
 
You want your sitter to know a lot about dogs, but the true test of somebody who’s knowledgeable about dogs is for them to admit that they don’t know everything about dogs. Professionals learn something new from every dog. Nobody will ever know “everything” about dogs. Be wary and steer clear of the person who “knows it all.” A sitter who believes that she does everything better than you and can handle any dog or dog-related situation better than you is one who’s likely to override and ignore your instructions.
 
Find out their experience. Some sitters “love dogs” and may have had a dog or two in the past. Just because your sitter maybe owns a dog or several dogs and has trained them, does not necessarily mean that she has the skills to handle and care for unknown dogs.  Maybe the sitter’s dogs are friendly to everybody and always come when called; this will be a disaster if she expects the same behavior from every dog. I would very much prefer somebody who had actual professional dog handling experience. Groomers, vet techs and shelter or daycare employees in particular will have good experience in handling a wide variety of dogs who are often nervous, overexcited, or confused at being separated from the owner.
 
Your sitter should absolutely definitely carry insurance coverage. If this is just a family friend or relative that you know, who’s doing you a favor, then you can let this slide, but if this is someone you don’t know or someone who claims to be a professional, then you will want them to have insurance coverage.
 
Most sitters will come over (for free) to do a meet-and-greet and for everyone to determine if this will be a good match. Observe how your candidate sitter interacts with dogs. The sitter shouldn’t encourage your dog to jump up in greeting, but shouldn’t react violently (kneeing the dog in the chest or stomping the dog’s back toes) if it does so – he or she should just step aside. If your dog is showing any nervousness, your sitter should not move in with outstretched hands to try and “make friends.” In fact, if your sitter temporarily ignores the shy dog and speaks with and looks only at you, this could actually be a good sign – this sitter is remaining neutral towards the dog to establish that he or she is not a threat. As the visit goes on, the dog should warm up visibly to the sitter and at that point the sitter might pet and interact more with it.
 
The sitter should be willing to follow your household rules for interaction with the dog. He or she shouldn’t sit down and immediately invite the dog up onto the sofa, for example, unless you’ve made it clear that the dog is allowed on the sofa. But if your dog is allowed on your sofa, then the sitter shouldn’t force it off. (Your house, your rules.) It is also okay to request that the sitter does not invite others (friends, etc) into your home. Each additional person coming into the house represents more risk to your dog and to your property. If the dog will be staying at the sitter’s house, find out who else lives there and if it’s a quieter house or one where many people are coming and going.
 
When you are gone, it’s advisable to ask the sitter never to let the dog run loose or off it’s leash, and think very carefully before you let an unknown person take it to a dog park. No matter how well your dog is trained, it doesn’t have a training history with the sitter, and your sitter might not use the right cues or might act in a way that your dog isn’t familiar with. Remember that you know your dog in a very deep, subtle way and it took your relationship a long time to get to the point where it is today. Your sitter however, will be a stranger to your dog. They’ll develop history together as they go, but for now don’t expect the dog to behave exactly the same with your sitter as he does for you. Expect and prepare for some training regressions.
 
Before you leave, double-check the fence and all other security measures you have for your dog. Double-check the leash and collar to make sure that there’s no frays or tears, and make sure that all identification tags are secure. It’s always a good idea to hide an extra key in case the sitter ends up locked out somehow.
 
Finally, be perfectly honest with your sitter. If your dog has shown aggression in a specific situation before, such as if you approach him while he’s eating, the sitter needs to know so he or she can avoid that specific trigger – or even turn down the gig altogether. If your dog is “sometimes” friendly with other dogs, but sometimes not, then be honest with the sitter and let her know that his behavior can be unpredictable so best would be if the walks did not involve greeting strange dogs. You are not doing your sitter any favors if you downplay any issues that your dog has. But if you very clearly explain them, as well as how to avoid any potential triggers (avoiding triggers altogether is a better and safer bet for sitters than trying to train through them, even if you are currently in training with your dog.)
 
Most sitters text a lot of photos of your dog having fun in your absence, so you can look forward to receiving these each day; so have a great vacation and be prepared for an extra-excited, wiggly dog when you return!

Working from Home

Posted on 10 December, 2018 at 16:52 Comments comments (2)
 
Working from home with your dog sounds like a dream come true. Relaxing mornings where you can get up leisurely and go out for a nice walk before settling down in front of the computer for the day’s work. Your dog will curl under your feet as you type away and send emails to co-workers, supervisors and customers. In the afternoon, maybe you’ll head to the coffee shop for a change of scenery; your dog will come too, of course. When the work is done, you’ll sign off and head out to the park.
 
The reality is often very different. In real life, the dog is barking its head off at the mail carrier just as you’ve got the most important customer on the phone. He’s whining for attention as you’re trying to focus on an important document. Or, there’s perfect silence…which you enjoy for a while before suddenly realizing that he’s probably getting into trouble, and jumping out of your chair to find him happily shredding the sofa cushions.
 
But…it CAN be a special pleasure to work from home with your dog. Here are a few keys to make it easier.
 
1)      Structure the day. If you don’t put in a structure, then your dog will come up with his own structure, and you probably won’t like it. So plan out the day. Maybe when you first get up you’ll have coffee and feed the dog, then take him on a walk, and then settle in to work at 8 or 9 a.m. Structured exercise is especially important for this – your dog is more likely to sleep through those long stretches of desk work if it’s had a good romp in the morning and maybe another one at lunch.

2)      If you’re going to have your dog in your office or workspace with you, practice leashed settles near your desk. The leash is to keep him from getting into too much trouble and keep him generally in one spot.

3)      If your dog tends to bark a lot (at people going by, at birds, etc) consider reducing visibility – blinds down in the living room, or (again) having him settle under your desk so he can’t see and react to every little distraction.

4)      When you get up to walk or exercise your dog, make sure you’re getting up not in response to him doing something or getting antsy. Part of the settle implies that the dog has to lie there until you decide to get up – not until the dog is acting so naughty that you’re forced to get up and entertain it.

5)      If you have an important conference call to make, you might consider putting the dog into a separate room or its crate, ideally with a stuffed Kong or chewie that will take it a long time to eat. The last thing you want is your dog to start barking or getting into trouble while you’re trying to work with the clients.

6)
If you know that you’re going to have a very busy day ahead of you, it’s no shame to get a dog walker or do dog daycare for part of the day.

Hopefully these tips help; good luck at your work-from-home job!

The Perfect Puppy Myth

Posted on 30 November, 2018 at 13:12 Comments comments (21)
When many people set out to get their puppy, they are prepared and expecting to get a great, perfect one. They’re willing to put in the hours, the love, the money. And they expect that what they ultimately will get out of it will be a dream dog, the most amazing dog in the world.
 
That very well might be the case! But…hate to break it to you; the truth is that that “perfect puppy” is kind of a unicorn.
 
Your puppy was born with all sorts of predispositions and an inherent temperament. Some puppies are born shy, some outgoing, some naughty, some thrilled to do whatever you ask of it and some less so. Some are born really resilient, able to bounce back from whatever life throws at it. And some are going to get scared one time by one noise, and then be permanently scared of noises. Some will be calm. Some will have a “miles per day” exercise requirement.
 
A lot of this has to do with breed, but even within breeds there’s variability. A purebred Lab is likely to be friendly and outgoing, but there will be shy ones too. A purebred Border collie is likely to be super motivated and driven, but you’ll find some couch potatoes too. So yes, you should pick a breed that you think will be compatible with your lifestyle, but there’s still some wiggle room in what you’ll actually end up with.
 
The “perfect” dog will be loyal and attached to its owner, but…not so loyal and attached that it panics when you leave for work, or aggresses at anyone who tries to approach you. The “perfect” dog will be friendly and confident, but not so friendly and confident that it runs away to go say hi to everybody in the park whenever you let it off leash, and won’t come back until he’s made the complete social circuit. The perfect dog will be calm but not so calm that it falls asleep when you try to take him jogging. The “perfect” dog is a balance between all these extremes, and your dog’s natural temperament is going to fall somewhere on the continuum of these extremes. Much of your training of your dog will consist of you trying to smooth out any extremes and bring your dog into the perfect balance. So, if you have that super clingy, attached one you’ll be doing confidence exercises and focusing on socialization; if you have that wild outgoing one your focus will be on control and distraction work.
 
Putting pressure on your new puppy to be the “perfect puppy” is waaaaaay too much pressure, and unless you are very lucky, won’t work. Putting pressure on yourself to raise the perfect puppy is also too much. You’re allowed to mess up! So is your puppy! You will learn and grow together; nobody’s perfect including you, including your puppy. You can definitely strive towards being very, very happy with your puppy! 
 

Test Your Training!

Posted on 9 November, 2018 at 13:56 Comments comments (14)
Testing out your dogs skills and your training abilities in the competition obedience ring is a great way to see how you’ve done, but even if you don’t want to compete (many people don’t) you can still occasionally “test” yourself and your dog to see how you’re doing.
 
Dr. Ian Dunbar, the veterinary behaviorist who popularized both puppy classes and positive reinforcement-based training, uses the “test, train, test” method to ensure that your dog is in fact making progress with its training. With this method, you first “test” the dog to see how it’s doing in any particular situation. For example, you might walk the dog down the block and see how often it remains in good leash-walking position versus how many times it pulls ahead. Take note of the number of times (using numbers rather than vague descriptors such as “she did pretty good”) and note them. Then, go into your training period. Maybe two or four weeks? After this period is over, “test” again – walk down the same block, and count the number of times the dog was in good leash position. Has this number increased? If so, you have actual data that your training is working – keep at it! If not, then you should look into changing some things, put that into practice, and test again further down the road.
 
If you want to try this, keep your tests small and focused on the things you’re actually working on. So the questions wouldn’t be “Dog behaved himself at the park, yes or no?” but “Did he respond to come when called off medium-level distraction? High-level distraction? Could he sit-stay while another dog played fetch in the distance? Did he unload politely from the car?” The more specific you are, the more helpful the “test.”
 
After you’ve done your initial test, you now have to actually work on the things your dog missed! Don’t just give up and say “He didn’t come when called.” You now can continue working with your dog, but this time you have data! If the data says your dog has improved, then just continue with what you’re doing. If your dog hasn’t improved, then figure out why. Maybe you need a new training method or maybe you just need to improve the one you’ve got (look at your timing, reward structure, difficulty levels etc.) Don’t test too often – maybe once a month or so. The vast majority of your time should be spent training.
 
Give this system a try, especially if you’re not sure whether something you’re doing is working!

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