Friday, December 31, 2010

Get Your Dog Out of Your Hair: If even for just a moment...

When you’re sick, the last thing you want to think about is taking care of everyone else. Selfish, I know, but there’s no better time to be a huge baby then when you’re congested, coughing, and tired all the time. 
This past week was my turn. Yes, that’s right. The kids got me (and J) a cold virus for Christmas! How do we know? Because as sick as he and I got, the kids never even sniffled!
Top priority: get lots of rest. Absolute last priority: take care of the dogs. 

That was my list. That was not the list of my beloved dogs. Though, strangely enough, they toned it down a bit and didn’t reach their full obnoxious level. I like to think it’s because they understand that we were under the weather...
I needed something to occupy them inside the house and it had to be something that doesn’t require me to interact with them as much. 
I’m a huge fan of dog puzzles - my favorite DIY doggie games, like in this post, usually just require me to dig in the recycling for inspiration. Which is exactly what I did this morning when I wanted just a liiiiiitle bit more sleep. *Supervision is strongly suggested. J was there to keep an eye on them, just in case.
I grabbed a cardboard box that’s still intact, some yummy treats, and some tape. 

My dog’s don’t ingest cardboard - that’s key. If your dog is less of a destroyer and more of an eater, this might not be the best idea for you. You would probably want something more sturdy, like the Nina Ottosson Twister game that they can’t actually tear apart for the purpose of eating it. Here’s our blog, with video, of Bizzle working on one.
Next, I toss some yummy, smelly treats inside the box. 
Then, I seal it up with tape.
Tada! Ready for play!

 Again, my dogs don’t actually consume this. Instead, they rip through it and spit the pieces out. They know the real prize is inside. 
This lasts them about 15 - 30 minutes, depending on how much I seal up the container. If you want to make it more difficult, seal all the flaps and corners.  That way, they can’t just rip the corner of the box open and get in. They’ve got to toss the box around a bit to figure out the best way in. 
Does this make a huge mess? Yes. 

But all it requires is a sweep of the broom and it’s cleaned up. More importantly, my dogs are entertained. And when the alternative is them bugging me every 2 seconds to play with them when all I want to do is recover, it’s definitely worth it! 

Here's Sarah, tuckered out after destroying her "toy":

Do you have great ideas for entertaining your dogs? Share them with us, we'd love to hear them!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Your Dog's Not Listening

It’s three in the morning. You’re in your pajamas standing in the doorway, whisper-yelling out to the yard, “Fido! Pssst! Fido! Come!”  You just want to go back to bed, or at least back inside before the neighbors think you’re crazy. Fido, however, has a different idea. He’s decided he suddenly can’t hear you calling and he’s going to smell every inch of the backyard before coming back inside.
Why does he do this? Because Fido, like all dogs, knows there is a “before and after” to everything.
It's cause and effect, or Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (ABC). Fido knows that you call him, he comes running to you and (cue ominous music) he's locked back inside the house...F-O-R-E-V-E-R!
If you want your dog to listen, you’ve got to set up the environment so that he always feels that he will gain something - the age old, “what’s in it for me?”
Become unpredictable. If Fido doesn't know whether or not coming to you will result in play, treats or going inside, he has to gamble.  Most likely, he will make this decision based on what's happened more in the past. You want to make it so that he's willing to bet you might be offering something he wants.
Always, always reward the right choice. And the wrong one. Let's say that it's been about 3 minutes of you enticing your dog. You're frustrated and angry when he finally decides to mosey on over to you. Choosing to scold or punish him for his delayed response will only confirm in his mind: "next time, don't come back at all because if I do, I'll just get in trouble!"
Make it fun. Calling your dog to come inside has to sound like it's better than staying outside. Try calling Fido in an upbeat voice and run away from him, then reward him with play once he gets in the doors. That way, he won’t see coming inside as impending doom, but rather just another doorway to fun!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why it's important to ask your trainer HOW

If you enter “dog training help” in to your powerful search engine of choice, the amount of websites promising to solve your problem are abundant. It’s enough to plunge you deep into the Internet vortex and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself shopping for mittens on Amazon wondering, “How the hell did I get here???”
By the time you’re back on track, you realize there are more answers than you thought possible.
After querying “dog training help”, I found one trainer who offers the following advice for treating a leash-aggressive dog:
“Your dog needs to do what you tell it. Your commands need to be adhered to. The better your dog is at obeying your commands the less it’ll be distracted. An obedient dog will eliminate aggression.”

Oh brother. Here we go. There are so many things that irk me about this statement, but let me just pose the question every dog owner should ask about any recommended training:
“HOW?” More specifically, how does obedience eliminate aggression??
What exactly do you mean when you say “obedience”…
I prefer not to use the word often, although I use it to describe the classes I teach. (You know what? Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m probably going to change that).
Obedience sounds so…overbearing.
I don’t want a dog to be obedient, submissive, or compliant. That all sounds like something you do because you have to, not because you want to. It sounds too official, as if there is some quality assurance inspector making sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed and pink slips are given to anyone who doesn't meet the standards.
During my ten year stint in the military, obedience meant you had no other option – you were either obedient or else, and you definitely did NOT want the “or else”.
So, maybe that’s why it irks me. Because I’m not trying to communicate to my dog that they have to do something or else. I’m communicating to them “trust me! You’re going to want to do this!”
Umm, when does the obedience start to eliminate aggression??
Giving the benefit of the doubt to the author, perhaps they meant that if the dog is able to listen to your cues and your direction, the dog will be less likely to react aggressively towards the stimulus. Ohhhhh. Then why didn’t they just say that!? Because that’s totally different than “listen to me or else”.
Bottom Line
You know what eliminates aggression?? The dog does, not you, not obedience. The dog decides to stop aggressing. There is a moment (well, series of moments…many, many, counter-conditioning moments) when the dog decides “huh…This isn’t as bad as I thought it was…”
The dog’s trainer merely facilitates that a-ha moment.
They’re the one who teaches the dog that their engrained response (aggression) is not the answer, convincing them that aggression isn't necessary. War, folks, is not the answer.

Pop Quiz
HOW does obedience eliminate aggression? 
It doesn't.

Photos courtesy of: - Aggressive dog - Pop Quiz

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Perfect Dogs Raised By The Perfect Dog Trainer

Are you as big a fan of decorating as I am?? Do you stalk the decorating blogs and yearn for the time, the talent, and the HOME that many of these decorators have?

For many dog owners, a beautifully staged home free of toy-stuffing and dog hair is but a dream...

I do what I can and I think my decor is comfortable and pleasant, but I don't have the energy to keep my home in pristine condition - you will not be finding me on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens any time soon. I'm insanely jealous of the bloggers who have homes that all seem to be on the same block in the neighborhood known as Paradise.

In one of the decorating blogs I was reading yesterday, the author confessed, "don't think my home is always this tidy, I staged it just for this shot." HA! I knew it!!!

This made me think about what I want readers to get out of my blog. The purpose of Paws to Rufflect is to put out there that although I am a dog trainer by profession, I still have my fair share of mistakes, blunders and imperfections. I have the skills necessary to fix Kuna's loose-leash walking so that when we're out in public, people may think I have a "perfect" dog. It's marketing to the public - it's proving that I can train you to train your dog. But it certainly doesn't mean my dogs and their trainer are perfect!

In fact, I thought it would be funny to make a list of all the irritating silly things my dogs do. Compare, contrast, feel blessed yours might not be that bad after all.

Kuna counter-surfs like a demon. If he were ever a stray, he'd probably survive the longest because he can find food in places that make you scratch your head and think "how...what...huh!!???"

  • whines more than a newborn pup. Just when we think we've got a handle on it, he's whining again. He whines to go potty, which we appreciate. He also whines just to hear himself whine, which we do not appreciate.

Sarah drools at the simple thought of food. She is a direct decendent of a Pavlov dog.

  • eats her own poop. ugh. don't even get me started...

  • doesn't like eye contact. This is a common thing with canines, but Sarah will lunge "out of the blue" if a passerby maintains eye contact with her.

  • takes care of her personal our bed.

  • strongly dislikes horseplay and rough-housing, whether it's canines or humans. No one gets to have fun around Sarah.

  • hates Bizzle.

Bizzle hates Sarah. Hackles up, glaring out of the corner of her eye, huffing and puffing...they have to be separated 24/7.

  • every day at 3 pm, she begins her afternoon randomness. She pitter patters around, follows me everywhere I go, stares at me in anticipation of something we have yet to figure out, then starts howling/barking at me. There's something we're missing, of course. She's probably wondering when we'll get the message.

  • hates the cold, rain or snow. Won't even go out to potty. Where she "goes" or how she holds it, we may never know.

  • burrows through a freshly made bed. Every time.

  • pulls on the leash (GASP!) - since we moved to the country, we gave up and just got a retractable. Be free, Bizzle. At least to a distance of 15 feet.

I'm not ashamed to admit that my family of four-legged freaks is not perfect. I've dropped the ball countless times and sure, I could probably fix (almost) all the things on this list. Between you and I, some of these things I don't fix because they make my dogs who they are...I've learned to love them. When they're gone, I'll miss every single thing on this list.

I worked with a client once who told me, "I wish my dog walked next to me like the woman's dogs down the street...instead, I have this terrible puller." I laughed and told her those dogs probably poop in the dishwasher. We got a good laugh out of that, then worked hard on her boy's leash manners. He is doing well but she said she'll never look at that woman's dogs the same. :)


Monday, November 22, 2010

Controlled Chaos

Sooooo, we all know that I've been preparing Kuna for public appearance. I work on him being comfortable in crowds, leaving other dogs alone and keep his wits about him in extremely chaotic situations. I couldn't be more proud - the boy is doing really well!

This weekend, Kuna and I were participants in Kathy Sdao's "So Many Choices" workshop. There were 2 working groups and 2 auditors assigned to each group, with a total of about 15 - 20 groups. We were at the lovely Coventry School for Dogs in Columbia, MD owned and operated by the fantastic Ruth Chase. If you've never seen her facility, you're missing out!

The application portion of the seminar was held in a very warehouse-like room and let me say this: the acoustics were wonderful. Unless you have 20 trainers with 20 clickers, barking dogs, people talking over other people, and an instructor on a PA system yelling over them. My brain short circuited about 5 minutes in.

Why? Oh because I forgot one tiny little trainer's commandment while conditioning Kuna to chaotic situations: Prepare Thyself.

I haven't been on this end of the proverbial leash for a while! People were evaluating my performance, giving me pointers, critiquing my training skills - that's been MY job! I have no problem giving a demo as the trainer, but suddenly I was thrown in to the role of student and boy oh boy, suddenly I was missing the motor skills portion of my brain.

The noise was unbearable. Kuna's performance obviously reflected my training: we fell apart almost instantly. And it just went downhill from there. Saturday was the worst day ever.

On my drive back to the seminar Sunday morning, I reflected on what exactly went wrong the day before and here's what I've compiled:

I simply was not prepared.
You can bring every type of treat imaginable but that only helps your dog. I should have told myself that it was going to be chaotic and that I was going to be anxious because I didn't know anyone (contrary to what many people may think, I'm actually VERY shy in new settings...I forget this because I force myself to be outgoing in order to be an effective teacher...).

I've programmed my brain to only accept constructive criticism, TAG Teach style.
While this may seem like a good thing, it actually makes my skin that much thinner when people do not follow the teachings of TAG. Not everyone understands or applies these techniques. It hurts my feelings when I hear "You shouldn't have done it like that..." or "I think you made a mistake when..." I'm sorry. I might sound like a big baby. But that just takes away any ounce of confidence I had. And confidence is what makes me an effective trainer.

I expected Kuna to carry me.
Since I'm being honest, I also realized that I thought all that hard work I've put in to training Kuna would somehow make my job easier. How? I guess I kind of thought "well, he's such a good boy, this should go smoothly" - as if I expected HIM to do all the work. But he's my job and I'm employed 24/7.

I forgot this was a learning experience.
Even after we faltered, I should have just let it roll of my back. We were there to learn and make mistakes. Kuna didn't care if we looked stupid - all he was concerned with was us as a team: where are we going? what are we doing? can we share that sandwich???

So Sunday, I took off my dog trainer hat. I didn't care how well we did, how much slower we progressed through the exercises than the rest of the group...all I was concerned with was "are me and my boy having a good time learning?"

It was no surprise that Sunday was our most successful day.

So when you're working with your dog, remember: you are an integral portion to the team. It's not just your dog doing the work and going through the motions - it's up to YOU to carry the team home. Keep your wits about you, maintain your game face and celebrate no matter the outcome!

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Boy's Got a Sniffer!

I like that each dog has his or her own "thing" that they do well AND like doing. Sarah is a good supervisor. She doesn't let the puppy get out of line, yet she's patient enough to let him be a puppy. Bizzle is my experimental dog - any new behavior I want to try out, Bizz will pick it up in a heartbeat. She'll also let me know if my training skills need to be sharpened because if I am not clear enough or fast enough, she'll let out a "woo-woo-woooo!" in protest. But she loves learning!

As you may know, Kuna is my very first 100% clicker-trained dog. I already see the difference. He will learn new things without hesitation, he bounces back quickly and he's been socialized (the right way) heavily. I've talked about my big plans for him: he's my public dog. Sarah used to be, but she's getting old and would be happier if I just left her at home. Kuna comes with me to after-school programs, demos with me for clients and goes anywhere dogs are permitted. But I've been anxiously waiting for the moment that HE shows me who he is. Two nights ago, his talent was revealed!

We've got a dog-toy box, which Kuna loves to dig through and find the perfect toy. Because I'm a terrible housekeeper, I tossed one of Bizz's old ladybug Halloween costumes in there. He found it and was tearing through the house like he just discovered a gold mine! I wanted it back because I didn't want him ripping it. So, I offered another one of his toys for an exchange. He obliged.

As I held it in my hand, I was talking to John. I made a gesture like I tossed the costume and it made Kuna drop his other toy and start searching for the costume. He would. not. stop. He just kept sniffing the couch, smelling under the coffee table - it had to be here somewhere, I just saw her throw it!

J and I looked at each other - he's a sniffer! Now, this shouldn't be such a surprise. We're pretty sure he's got beagle in him (based on the braying he does!) and we're guessing the other breeds mixed in are houndish and terrier-like.

I wanted to test this out! So, I had Kuna sit and stay in the other room but where he could still see me. I "hid" the costume/toy in plain sight and said "Go find it!" and encouraged him to come look for it. 5 minutes of this game and I was able to hide it under a blanket, where he didn't see me put it, and he was able to find it! Everytime he found it, I gave him lots of praise and let him tug and play with it. Then, I would cue "Out" and he'd run to the mat where I had him sitting and staying just so he could "Find it" again.

I hid it once behind the curtains - he was so close to it and would not give up on that area. He was sniffing the air, turning in fast circles until his nose landed on the curtains. All of a sudden, he froze with his nose on the curtain. Then, many fast sniffs through the fabric before his nose found it's way under the curtain and he got completely silly and came out from behind the curtain with his prize!

I'm super excited to see that this is what he loves. I think dogs need jobs, but they've got to have a job that they LOVE. With Kuna being my public dog, I had to make sure I made public appearance something he's comfortable with. But I'm happy to say that Kuna has revealed to me his passion: Finding Bizz's ladybug costume!

I can't wait to see what else we can work with! Nosework, here we come!!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Getting Bored Training Your Dogs? Give your kids a try!

It's kind of funny - as patient as I am when it comes to training dogs, it takes a lot more for me to be patient with the kids. I don't know why, but I expect more from them. Which isn't fair - I get that - they're learning too. So this weekend was not only about teaching the kids, but also about teaching me that I can apply the same teaching principles I use with canines: positive reinforcement yields results.

Find what's reinforcing
Months ago, we developed the point system. If the kids did something good, they got a point. Those points could then be turned in at the end of the day or in the middle of the all depended on how desperate we were for them to behave. They got to have a popsicle or something of value.
Advantages: they were really excited about doing things right
Disadvantages: life got too busy and before we knew it, days had gone by and the kids were racking up the points. The reinforcement rate wasn't high enough for them to care after a while.

We decided to go with something more tactile...something they can physically hold on to. Enter: Pennies!

Gather training tools
The kids love when we're training the dogs with the clicker, so we decided to incorporate the clicker in their training too.

J and I carried around a handful of pennies and a clicker so we could quickly reward the kids.

Clearly state the criteria
The rules are: state EXACTLY what we WANT them to do. Words like don't and stop are omitted. If we tell exactly what we want them to do, we make the goal very clear. If we were to tell them to stop jumping on the couch, for example, then that's technically saying that running on the couch might be acceptable.

Good example: When you are done brushing your teeth, wipe all the water off the counter with the towel next to the sink. Clearly states: wipe the water, use the towel to do this and wait until you are done brusing your teeth to do it.

Bad example: Don't leave water on the sink. How? When you're talking to 3 and 5 year old kids, this could mean use your sleeve to wipe the water. Where? They could just wipe the water right in front of them, ignoring the water by the faucet. When? Again, they could wipe the counter before they start brushing their teeth! Definitely not what we're looking for...

Continue to reward the behavior
When the trainee is in the acquisition phase of learning, it's important to remember to continue to reward that behavior every time it happens. This is how good habits are formed.

Use negative punishment, when necessary
Our biggest challenge is the television. So, if we tell them to do something and they don't, we remove the television. No, not the whole thing! That's too impractical! But we definitely walk right over to the remote and turn off the T.V. End of discussion.

Example: "L, it's time to go wash your hands. When you're done washing your hands, go sit at the dinner table." No reply. So, I simply walk over to the T.V. and turn it off. That's when he says, "HEY! why'd you do that!?" I state very calmly, "I asked you to go wash your hands and then sit at the dinner table. The T.V. will remain off until you can do what I tell you."

What we learned this weekend
L learned to maintain eye contact when someone is speaking to him.
D learned to put her fork down once she's taken a bite.
Both kids learned to eat over their plates and keep their bodies facing forward while they eat.

What we found interesting about the training
The kids were VERY quick to point out when we didn't click and reward. At one point, J and I were talking and D put her fork down and wiped her face with her napkin after she had eaten. "HEY! you didn't click me!" LOL...

If one child got rewarded for a specific behavior, the other was quick to correct themselves. I clicked L for eating his green beans with his fork, instead of his fingers and caught D out of the corner of my eye stop using her fingers and grab her fork. Then, before I could even say anything she said "Look! I'm using my fork!"

It's not easy to stay on top of their behavior constantly. We were really tired by the end of the day. But we gave ourselves credit: we're using a very powerful tool and if we stick to it, we'll be rewarded handsomely with well-behaved, engaged-in-learning kids!

There were times throughout the day where nothing beat a good timeout. Crying for no reason? That gets you excused to the room for a timeout, just like a dog that's barking gets removed from the room.

Just like when training your dog, what you think is reinforcing or what was reinforcing to them ten minutes ago may no longer have as much importance now. With the kids, the pennies were not always want they wanted. Sometimes they wanted to watch a movie, sometimes they wanted to play a video game...we used these to our advantage.

Teaching people with clickers is not a new thing! To learn more about Teaching with Acoustical Guidance (TAG), go to!


Friday, November 5, 2010

Trying Something New

I know nothing about agility. Let me repeat that: N-o-t-h-i-n-g! But Bizz is such a high-energy dog, I've always had this dream of us running a course together.

This isn't a case of a mother wanting her child to grow up to be president - I think Bizz is actually really well-suited to agility! Well, there is the tiny little detail that she's reactive. And she hates wet grass. But we're gonna give it a try anyway. Not to mention, I think learning agility will challenge me as a trainer. After all, I've never tried it!

We're not just going to show up to a trial and hope for the best! Oh, no sir/ma'am! We've got months of practice before that!

1) J's gotta build us some agility equipment! I was looking online and found this cool site, which provides detailed instructions on how to build your own...everything! We're gonna start with the awesome adjustable channel weave poles. Not because that's the way you're supposed to do it but because I have this terrible habit of getting really excited about something new and starting things not in the beginning, not at the end, but kinda in the middle. I'm sure I'll be blogging in a couple weeks about how I made a huge mistake and should have started with something more simple. Until then...

2) B's skills assessment. She's my fast-as-a-whip, will-work-until-I-pass-out dog. She LOVES to work! Bizzle's skillset is as follows:
  • Targeting - objects, but more importantly, she'll target my hand which is what I'm going to use to get her to move on, over, under and through objects.
  • Sit
  • Wait
  • Recall & Drop - I recall her, issue the cue "Drop" and she lies down until I release her to come back to me, continuing her recall.
  • Over
  • Under
  • Up - land on top of an object
  • Tunnel - go through the tunnel
  • Go-Go-Go - this REALLY pumps her up. I yell this and she kicks it in to 6th gear! It wasn't anything she and I worked on. I would just yell it when she was running really fast and I'd even make her chase me during one of her need-for-speed outbursts, yelling Go-Go-Go! Pretty soon, it just started to mean "go faster!"
 3) While J is hard at work on the weave poles, B and I will refresh her "tunnel" (which we found at a toy store for 20 bucks!), her balance board (it's just going to be a large piece of plywood balancing on top of different unstable objects).

I'll be documenting our progress with video and posting them on the blog. I've been really wanting to do this with her for some time and I'm excited to start - even though winter's right around the corner! Doh! (pssst - we might have found a new training space...stay tuned!)

If anyone has any pointers for a beginner's agility team, please share!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Click or Treat!

Ahhh...Halloween. For a dog owner like me, it's the second worst holiday when it comes to the stress my dogs go through, the Fourth of July topping the list as the ultimate! We try to keep the dogs busy as much as we can and train them to focus on us and not the squealing kids outside, but the outside festivities could literally go on all night!

We have a ritual that may seem a bit bah-humbug: we go in to Halloween lockdown mode. Shut off the porch light, lock the front gate and arm ourselves with treats. Answering the door every 15 minutes would be complete chaos. Okay, so it's not like the apocalypse or anything...but we just want to relax and enjoy the night as if it were any other.

The dilemma we were faced with was that this was a primo socialization opportunity for Kuna. Halloween is a time he gets to see scary masks and screaming kids. Now it's time for this dog trainer to be honest: I opted out on seizing that opportunity. :(

I know, call me what you will but I just wasn't feeling it. So what do I tell people who just DO NOT feel like training at that moment? At the very least, manage the environment that affects the dog's behavior.

Like I said, we locked down the house so no trick-or-treaters came to the porch. We also played the television louder to mask the outside noise and made sure the dogs were good and tired PRIOR to sunset so they would be nice and sleepy when it came time to shutdown for the night.

I was rather pleased - there were no outbursts from our special girl B and Kuna could not have cared less. Sarah's a pretty laid-back girl who was the chosen one getting to snuggle with me on the couch. :)

I spoke to a woman I know who has a somewhat-reactive Boxer - she tried to take him out trick-or-treating with the kids armed with the clicker and treats, but when they actually found themselves in the middle of all the chaos, he couldn't handle it. That's when she made a smart, smart, smart decision: this is too much for him...take him home where he isn't stressed. I wanted to hug her for understanding her dog's limits and for being the protector of her family: she didn't push him. Good job, D! ;)

Hope everyone had a safe Halloween! If anyone has any cute pics of your dog's costume, I'd LOVE to see them!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Kuna Celebrates National Pit Bull Awareness Day!

This Saturday was National Pit Bull Awareness Day and Kahuna's K9s was proud to take part in such a positive event! The Calvert County Humane Society hosted the affair at the North Beach Firehouse in Chesapeake Beach, MD. It was a beautiful day to promote the breed in a positive light!

Kuna, although he's not a pit bull, was my demo dog for Kahuna's K9s. I've mentioned before in posts that Kuna has a big responsibility - he's my bomb-proof dog. From the moment he came home with us, we've been working on his behavior in public and his ability to handle stressful situations with ease. This isn't automatic and he's certainly not done learning - we train every time we leave the house.

My expectations are pretty high:
- walk where I indicate (beside me, behind me, in front of me)
- stay focused on me, despite distractions
- greet with a loose-leash
- wait patiently if I stop
- your mouth is not for exploring when we're working
The list goes on and on!

Well, I'm proud to say: Kuna performed marvelously this weekend!

There were highly-reactive dogs, dogs in costumes, crowds of people, megaphones, speaker announcements, fire trucks, clickers going off everywhere (give a high school student a free clicker and you can imagine the insanity), there was even a little girl with paint on her face looking like a cat, wearing an elaborate costume! It was so detailed, it made me do a double-take!

K needed a lot of breaks and tons of chicken to make it through the event. We even brought his favorite toy and I would take him outside and tell him "you're free!" and play a few games of tug. Then, it was "Let's work!" and we were right back to business. When he was tired, I had his settle mat underneath the table for him to relax on. Towards the end, he was so tired, he jumped up on my lap and fell asleep!

I was surprised with how well he did. At the end of the day, I did a systems check and realized I had a pounding headache, my legs were tired and my face hurt from so much smiling. K was definitely exhausted, but he still had it in him to keep playing a game of tug while all the chaos came to an end.

There was another trainer there, James from Training by Julie (another positive-reinforcement dog training business run by Julie Jacobous - Awesome!) He had his Border Collie with him, who was lazily hanging out in his crate throughout the day. We talked about how our dogs were so well desensitized that it was just another day at the office for them. You can definitely pick out a clicker-trained dog!

I have the high-hopes of taking Kuna to Clicker Expo one of these years. Bringing your dog to a crowded event is a tough decision. Most of the time, it's too much for both the human and the dog to endure. There are the exceptions - some dogs are so well conditioned that they actually enjoy these types of events. Although Kuna did well this weekend, I'm still evaluating him to see if he'd be one of the latter: a dog that loves crowds. It's not just training that will get him there...I need to see that he actually wants to do it. Only time will tell...

I'm very proud of my little guy and a big thank you to John for all his help on Saturday!
They both made me, and Kahuna's K9s, look good ;)

(pics coming soon!)


Monday, October 18, 2010

5 Things Your Dog Should Not Be Allowed To Do

Clients frequently say to me, "I'm sorry, but we tend to let Sparky on the couch." I try not to laugh. Not at them, of course, but rather at the idea that Sparky, a member of the family, should somehow NOT be allowed on the couch!

You see, my dog training "manual" has a very short list of things dogs should absolutely NOT be allowed to do. In fact, I struggled to come up with the following list. 

Below is a list of what I think dogs shouldn't be allowed to do. If you have anything else to add, I'd love to hear your comments!

Your dog should not be allowed to:

1. Eat grapes, onions, large amounts of garlic, mushrooms, chocolate (baker's is way worse than a candy bar from the impulse aisle in the grocery store), etc. etc. etc.

I know. They're eyes are just so adorable when they're begging for food. Here's a quick list to refer to that includes the effects of consumption.

2. Develop behaviors that are inappropriate for your lifestyle and theirs

Let me be specific. If you have small children, it is NOT wise to teach/allow your dog to jump on people.  Conversely, if you do not have children and you don't mind that your dog jumps on people, then jumping is not a behavior you would work on fixing. 

Be prepared to accept responsibility for any behaviors you allow your dog to practice that others might consider unacceptable. If you allow your dog to hump everyone he meets, then don't suddenly decide that's embarrassing, and therefore punishable, when he's humping your 80 year old grandmother's leg.

Notice I also mention your dog's lifestyle. That's so very important to consider and yet, it's commonly overlooked. Understand dog body language. Dog's do not find it socially acceptable for another dog to lunge at them in greeting. This is a doggy-greeting no-no. Therefore, if you allow your dog to practice this you are setting your dog up for a serious (and costly) reality check from another canine. 

3. Go their entire life without any professional training

This isn't a marketing scheme or a plug for Kahuna's K9s (although, FYI, we're offering a discount this month for referrals!).

Dogs are learning every day: 
- Trash can = really stinky, tasty stuff
- Tissues are fun to chew! and so are cardboard boxes, shoes, books, end tables and DVD cases...
- Barking makes the mailman go away

The advantage of professional training: you have control over what they learn!

If your dog is one of those braniacs that practically trained themselves, then consider professional training for a fun activity you both can participate in like agility or Nosework classes.

4. Live their lives in solitary confinement

I'll just say this: Dogs are social animals. Humans are social animals. Therefore, life is so much better when we spend it together. :)

5. Dominate you. 

SIKE! Oh that made me LOL just typing it.  I'm not getting lecturey and I'm not going to delve deep in to this highly controversial subject. Dogs do well with GOOD leadership - I love this quote from some guy named John Quincy Adams about what it is to be a leader: 

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

Enough said.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Be the Change - Blog the Change

Blog the Change

Where do I begin!? There are so many changes in the works for the welfare of animals, I can't help but be a little giddy. For all that is wrong in the world, there are people out there fighting to make it right.

I know. It sounds a bit too sun-shiny and optimistic. You may be wondering how I can be so happy when there are losers abusing animals, dirty dog-fighting money being won at the cost of a dog's life, dogs being outlawed because of their seems everywhere we turn, there's another reason for us to lose hope in the human race.

So why am I so happy?? Because there are people out there fighting for the animals. It's apparent that the public is becoming outraged and demanding action, voices are getting louder and we all know there is strength in numbers.  It takes less effort to turn a cheek than it does to open your mouth and say, "I don't like this!!"

Rage on, my fellow animal-rights crusaders! Today is Blog the Change for the Animals Day!

Friday, September 24, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed...

...try, try again. Then give up. There's no use being an idiot about it."
I read that somewhere. I can't remember where, only that it makes me laugh every time I think about it because it describes me perfectly.
At the risk of providing T.M.I, I’d like to share a little bit about myself and how it relates to my passion for dog training and behavioral learning as a whole.
I was raised by a very strict father. Now that I am older, I understand that tough-love was all he knew. Being my step-father, he found himself suddenly raising his new eldest child and I truly believe he did the best he could. I can, however, specifically pinpoint pieces of myself that are a direct result from his tough upbringing. Most relevant to today’s discussion: my often crippling fear of being wrong, imperfect or criticized. With him, I was either wrong or invisible. There was no right. There was always something keeping me just shy of perfection in his eyes. I never cleaned the house well enough, never brought home grades that were good enough…it was a constant battle to prove myself to him. I was always walking on eggshells, wondering how I was going to fail yet again. I became obsessed with trying to make him happy with me but over time I learned I was better off being invisible. At least that kept me out of trouble.
It is because of this that I relish praise, perhaps more than the average person (I am of the belief that everyone likes hearing they’ve done well, it’s just more important to some). I am not necessarily attention-seeking; it just makes me feel like I’m no longer invisible and no longer wrong. Unfortunately, my shell is not as hard as I would like it to be and I can be brought to tears when I fail. So much so that I often give up if I have too many consecutive failures. It hurts too much to try and fail repeatedly.
Following my dreams of being a dog trainer isn’t bringing in enough income...for now. To supplement that, I work in IT as a day job. I’ve recently moved to a new job site and I am spending my days learning the ropes.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been given an objective and been told, in so many words, “do it.” Do what? Do it how? These are questions I’ve been left to figure out on my own. It’s one giant puzzle and I have to figure out the right questions to ask and the right people to talk to and then, I have to figure out how to put it all together in a way that makes sense to everyone else but me. It’s painful, frustrating and embarrassing.  
I do up the first draft. Immediately, it’s full of flaws. I expected this. I’m told what’s wrong, told to fix it and try again. The second time, I send the draft through proud of myself for fixing the previous problems only to find out there is a whole new set of things I didn’t do right. Now my ego is deflating. Why weren’t these new issues brought to my attention on the first round? Oh well. I press on. Third time through, same routine. “This is wrong, this is wrong, don’t do this like that…” over and over I’m corrected until every ounce of my confidence is gone.
I’ve been at this for a couple months now. With the exception of a few people, everyone that knows the answers waits until I’ve tried before telling me how I should have done it in the first place. Now, every time I present what I think is a completed project, I am hesitant to present it because I am just waiting to hear the dreaded “this isn’t right.” I wish someone would just tell me what “right” is so I can succeed the first time trying.
As a learner, I can relate to the dogs I’m training. It’s frustrating not knowing what everyone else knows, especially when you are supposed to meet someone’s expectations but can’t.
It’s even worse when the rules and processes aren’t very clear. I made a tiny misstep this morning. To others, it’s no big deal but to me my success in this task meant a great deal and I failed. Someone told me to do something and I did it. Later, two other people came to me to tell me that what I did was not correct. I’m thinking “but, but, but…they said!”  I felt stupid. Instantly, my level of motivation sank. I don’t care now. It’s Friday, the weekend is right around the corner and chances are the rules will be just as inconsistent on Monday as they are today. So why should I try? I’m just going to sit here and veg out. I can feel myself wanting to be invisible again.
Your learning dog is no different. If you wait for him to figure out the rules for himself, you will end up with one confused and de-motivated pup.  If you set him up for success by showing him exactly what you want and then praising heavily, you will find your dog wanting to engage in learning. You will have a dog that understands what you expect of them and will therefore continue trying. If you notice your dog tuning out when you’re talking to him, it could very well be that he just doesn’t get what you’re expecting. In that case, your dog has learned it’s just easier to not try than to try and fail.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Oh yeah. I forgot.

Kuna came with us to Panera Bread this weekend. While we were sitting outside enjoying our lunch, I gave Kuna a chewy bone to occupy him. He was behaving very well...and then it was time to leave. We were packing things up when I went for his bone. I got a protective growl and a snark!

Snark (noun) - not necessarily a snap, but definitely the dog voicing disagreement

I couldn't believe it! I was truly upset - at myself! 

Thinking back to the last three months, I've always kept Kuna separate from the other dogs when eating bones. I've allowed him to finish them in his kennel and never once have I tried to take them away. I just...forgot. I've taken his food away and he's obliged. I've taken toys away and he's allowed it. But I forgot to take away the highest value thingie out there in doggy land: the bone!

When he growled and put his body over his bone to keep me from it, I didn't push the issue. I didn't yell. I didn't snap back at him. Thankfully, I had very high-value treats on me and scattered them around on the floor for him to eat. When I reached for the bone, I clicked and treated him before he had a chance to guard it again. Why? Because he didn't growl and snap again. And ultimately, that's what I'm going for.

All the socialization and training Kuna's getting and I forgot very important curriculum: let me take things from you and I will reward you.

We've got some work to do, this is not acceptable behavior. Rather than get mad at Kuna for being protective over his bone, we're going to work on teaching him that giving that bone up is actually more rewarding!


Monday, September 6, 2010

A Student Is Only As Smart As Their Teacher

The chalkboard clearly read: "X = no Pink Pill". I couldn't tell you what compelled J to give Sarah a pink pill that day. If he looked at the corresponding calendar, he would see that today is NOT a day for the pink pill. With annoyance, I circled the directions in a thick, sarcastic line so that next time he won't make the same mistake. Sarcasm always makes for an excited learner.

The next day, he proudly tells me that he got it right this time. He gave Sarah a pink pill. "Are you insane!? You gave Sarah a pink pill yesterday! She's only supposed to have them every other day and after your royal screw up yesterday, that would mean she's now had them two days in a row!!!" I didn't say this. But my inner voice was screaming this. I adjusted the chalkboard with what I thought was better instruction. I was able to control my words, but my face said everything my mouth did not.

On the third day, J informed me that he's finally on track with the pink pill. He gave her a full pink pill and half of a yellow one. AAARGH! Pink pill dose is supposed to be half a pill. Yellow pill dose said on the chalkboard "1 1/2 pill". How can he be getting this so wrong so many times!! With much embarrassment, J said "ohhh...I thought that meant one HALF pill...." My eyes were rolling farther in to my head than I thought possible...

Seriously!!?? What is his problem!? Is he a complete idiot!?! Is he trying to piss me off and kill my dog!?!

The problem with being a dog trainer is that you learn stuff about people. Isn't that crazy!?

This whole mix up is technically my fault. But shhhhh! Let's not tell J that. My pride is too fragile ;)

You see, I had the advantage of knowing all the information I needed to know when I wrote the directions on the chalkboard. J did not. He went into it cold, having only my loosely translated instructions to follow. And look where they led him. He failed three times at no fault of his own.

It was the fault of the person with the information - it was the fault of the trainer.

Sure, it's easy for me to get annoyed. I know how to execute the pill dispensing perfectly. I was the one who talked to the doctor and picked up the medicine from the pharmacy. J just got the instructions: Give Sarah her medicine. How is this fair? Of course he screwed it up!

When teaching your dogs, make sure you are providing all the information you can to make them successful. If you leave any tidbits out or muddy the waters with instructions that don't make sense, you shouldn't be expecting perfection from your dog. If you've ever uttered the words "He knows how to [insert behavior] he's just being [stubborn, stupid, dumb, etc.]" then perhaps it's not your student but rather the instruction your student is receiving. And whose responsibility is that? ;)


Friday, August 27, 2010

Ew. A puppy.

Fine. I'll admit it right here in print: I'm falling in love with Kuna. He's squirming his way in to a snuggly, fuzzy compartment of my heart and it's terrible.

You see, my two girls are enough work as it is. With Sarah always ripping through the pantry like a tyrannosaurus (she's on meds that make her do this) and Bizzle reacting to dogs, bringing Kuna in to the home has flipped our world upside down. He whines, he needs to be watched like a hawk, he's clumsy and puts my paper shredder to shame (except that my paper shredder shreds paper I don't want...)

He wakes up way too early and is learning that this really awesome (not) noise called a bark comes out of his mouth anytime he chooses! Yippee! *eye roll* Puppies are sooo much work!

It's not fair - he was supposed to be J's dog. J inherited my girls. He loves them as if they are his own but they occasionally remind him of their loyalty to me (shh...but this is secretly flattering). Therefore, Kuna was chosen by J for J, with my expert guidance of course. ;)

I tried to keep my hands out of the pot but when you're dead set on proper socializing, crate training, house breaking, leash training...sigh. It just sorta...happens.

I was carrying him in from his last potty break of the night. He was a tired little boy, every bone in his body turned to mush as he draped his head over my shoulder and let out a soft puppy coo. I looked around to see if anyone was looking (don't ask my why I felt this needed to be done in secrecy) and buried my face in his scruff, closed my eyes and took in a big breath. I was good as gone.

It's not a matter of whether or not I love dogs. Trust me, I L-O-V-E dogs. I just thought I was stronger than this. I thought the flailing paws and floppy ears were cute, but this is serious! We have major work to do and we don't have time for tantrums and late night howl sessions, nor do we have time for snuggles and falling in love. I have to maintain my professionalism.

Alas, I've failed miserably. This silly boy has taken hold of my heart. And in complete puppy fashion, he's chewing it into a million pieces on the living room floor.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

You Mess With Me, Ya Get Bit!!

I was in line the other day at the grocery store. It was pre-weekend madness on a Friday afternoon - everyone was in a rush to get whatever food they needed for whatever meals they were making. I was grumbly, irritated and just wanted to get my coffee creamer and get the hay outta there. The woman behind me was obviously not as concerned with personal space as I was: she kept reaching across me to put her items on the belt and in doing so, bumped in to me. I shot her a side glance, notifying her that she's quickly getting on my (expletive) list. I expected a "pardon me" but got nothing. So I tried to ignore it.

As she reached into her cart to continue her annoyingness, she hit me with her gargantuan duffel bag/purse/twin-sized mattress combo. This time, I shot her a more direct glare. Eye contact. That'll teach her.

Much to my surprise, even after two threatening glares, the woman kept on loading the belt. Reaching across me again, she brushes my arm with hers. Ewwww! "Excuuuuuuuse me!" I snapped. She looked at me with bewilderment and continued on her path to being the most obnoxious person in the world. Her next move sent me through the roof: lacking complete social decency, she coughed on the side of my face!!! I lost it. "Are you kidding me!?! Can you take a few steps back and just freaking wait! Stay out of this space [an area defined by my flailing arms in circles around me]!" All eyes were suddenly on me, like I was the idiot because I was making a scene. But I warned her!! I glared at her, spoke with irritation, sighed heavily, rolled my eyes...all signs that she was flat-out making me mad! Why am I the crazy one??

When people tell me they yell at or correct their dogs for growling or snapping, I feel for the dog because obviously they didn't understand their dog's message. A dog's growl is like my "excuuuuuse me!!" and before I even said anything to this woman, I was glaring at her with the stinkiest of eyes. Yet she persisted. She wasn't reading my signs.

Looking back, I know for sure that if J were there he would have seen my signs. He would have literally wedged himself in between the woman and me, thereby removing the boiling pot from the stove. That's because J's good at reading me. He knows when I'm warning someone, when I'm about to explode, and when I've had enough.

It may sound crazy, but trust me: a growl is a blessing in disguise. The dog is telling you something. Take the time to understand why they growled - discovering the problem will often help you cure the symptoms.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Kuna has been whining in his crate for 30 minutes now. "Ignore him, " I tell J. But the constant, high-pitched whine can really take a toll on your sanity. We notice we're getting irritable. "I'm trying to ignore him!! But he just won't stop!" We start questioning why we have a puppy in the first place. What made us think we could handle this responsibility? What if we put a blanket over the crate? What if we sing to him? What if we yell at him to stop? Maybe we can put him in a basket and leave him in front of a firehouse!? (I'm kidding about the last two...) You see, as a trainer, I would give my clients the same matter-of-fact advice: never reinforce behavior you don't like. Ever. I think in giving this advice, however, I've somehow implied that it's easy. It is NOT easy. Even for a dog trainer.

My dogs aren't much different than anyone else's dogs when you think about it. Sure, Sarah can literally open doors for me, pick up things that I drop and come when I call in the most distracting environments. She also eats her own poop. Bizzle can spin, sit, speak, dance, find my keys and "hallelujah" faster than I can type the words. But if I want to take her somewhere with the slightest chance another canine will be present?? Fuggetaboutit! Then there's Kuna. He was doing "sit" before he turned 7 weeks. He could "kennel" at 8 1/2 weeks and just the other day, he walked up to the door and scratched to be let out to go potty! He plays well with other dogs, loves people and has the most solid rebound from something potentially frightening that I've ever seen. And yet, here he is, screaming in his kennel as if the walls were caving in. All I have to do is open that crate and let him walk out and this will all stop. Right?

As a trainer, I've seen the future, so to speak. This is because we're usually called in to fix problems that have already taken root. I've witnessed many times the result of a puppy that was allowed to jump: they are now 80 lbs and jumping wildly on children, elderly family members and house guests. I've seen the adult version of puppies that were not properly socialized and are now afraid of light bulbs, picture frames and other seemingly normal items to us. A puppy that is let out of the crate when he whines turns in to a dog that whines even more. It is hard work. It is taxing. There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. As a dog trainer, I know this. As a dog owner, it's harder to convince myself of that reality.

So what gets me through all of this? Patience. It sounds all sweet and fluffy but it's truly the number one tool in my dog training toolbox. It's what got Bizz to allow another dog in the house. It is what taught me to recall my dog before she has a chance to eat poop (duh!). Here I sit at my computer, reminding myself that if I just remain patient, Kuna will eventually stop whining. He has to take a breath, drink water, or snuggle in for a puppy nap. When that happens, I will jump for joy and open his crate. It's only a matter of time...

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Snuggly Boy

Picture this. It's 2 o'clock in the morning and you're letting your dog out to do his business. You were barely coherent enough to get a leash on him! As you sleepily sit on the porch steps while he finishes up, you remember you are supposed to reinforce his going potty outside. But you didn't grab your clicker and you didn't grab your treats. What to do!?

If clicker trainers had a dime for every time someone asked, "when can I get rid of the clicker and treats?" well, we would be able to do this job for free. The science behind positive reinforcement is that you give the dog something rewarding when he's done something right to up your chances that he does that behavior again. Commonly, this is done with the clicker/treat combo. The clicker marks the thing that was right and the treat gives the dog a reason to try that behavior again.
But what are you supposed to do if the dog is still acquiring behaviors and you find yourself without clicker and treats?
 It's because of this reality I try to teach clients the importance of finding real-life reinforcers for their dogs. I say "find" because your dog knows what's reinforcing to them - you just have to discover what would be ideal for you to use. Barking is reinforcing, but that's not necessarily a behavior you want to use as reinforcement. Cuddling is reinforcing to some dogs, that would be perfect to use when you find yourself without treats!

It turns out, Kuna is a sucker for some behind-the-ear petting. He loves to shove his puppy head in your lap while you slowly rub behind his ears. I found this out while I was teaching him that biting makes me go away. He tried to bite a couple times and the third time of me getting up and leaving, he decided instead of a bite, he would put his head in my lap. I slowly, so that I didn't get him riled up again, rubbed behind his ears while talking softly to him. He practically fell asleep! So I thought, hmm...let's see if this is good enough to use as reinforcement for behaviors. "Kuna. Sit." His little butt plopped on the ground. "gooooooood booooooy...." as I massaged his ears. I asked for the behavior again, wanting to see whether the speed of his behavior increased, decreased or stayed the same now that he thinks he will get an ear rub in return. Sure enough, the "sit" was faster. So I rewarded with the ear rub. A few more reps of this told me that the ear rub was perfect reinforcement - the behavior got faster. *when you're experimenting with this and you notice their behavior response time slows, then the reinforcement is not working correctly. Try something else...

It was me in the example above: there I was, practically falling asleep on the porch when I realized: uh-oh! he just
1) didnt go pee in the house
2) told me he had to pee outside
3) successfully eliminated outside.
I need to reward this big time!! So I went over to my little love bug and rewarded him with a little snuggle and an ear rub. His tail told me this was exactly what he was looking for!

Try this out with your dog! Use toys, praise, happy voice...all of these things can be reinforcers. You can also try pairing praise with a treat so that your dog begins to associate your words of encouragement with tasty morsels of food. That will make your praise worth much more!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Please Don't Call Me That...

When people first meet me and hear that I am a dog trainer, they immediately say, "You're like the Dog Whisperer!" which sends chills down my spine. A million things run through my mind - I want to retaliate, I want to flip through tons of position statements from rescues, veterinarians, behaviorists, ethologists, researchers - all shunning the concept of training that is employed by The Dog Whisperer. But that would just be weird. People would think I am crazy and end up not listening anyway. So, instead, I just kindly smile and say, "well, we have different views about dog training."

There was a time when "whispering" meant being in-tune emotionally and spiritually. A time when "whispering" was a hands-off approach and required the "whisperer" to reach deep into their inner spirit in order to connect with their subject. The phrase has changed and it now means, to the general public, that I am a dog trainer that performs miracles by being Alpha and not allowing dogs to dominate me. What I actually do is so completely opposite that it actually hurts to hear people compare "whisperers" with me.

I won't go in to the details of the quadrants of operant conditioning. I will spare you the scientific babble that happens to make the behavior nerd in me giddy with joy. What I will ask is this: what does a trainer like myself have to say to convince someone that is using punitive, correction-based, whisper-training to stop? Because, let's face it. No one likes an activist unless you're already on their side. And by then, I'm just preachin' to the choir. How do I reach out and explain to people that there is no need to force, dominate, yell, scream, say "NO!", push, yank (how many more verbs can I throw in here??) in order to achieve a well-trained, obedient (and dare I say...happier!??) dog?

The interesting thing is: many people don't know the damage they are doing to their dogs because, bless their hearts, some dogs can be VERY resilient. Additionally, the owners aren't always doing it to terrorize their dogs. Owners are training this way, well, because that's the way people have done it for years! It's just how it's done. For example, the age old remedy for a dog that pees in the house is to take him to the spot (often WAY to long after the fact) put his nose in it and say "NO!", followed sometimes by a swat on the nose. What owners don't understand is that this actually teaches the dog that pee is bad, not the ACT of peeing in the house. It tells them you, as their owner, do not like pee. So what do they do? They hide it! They go in corners, they go behind the couch...just to spare you the icky pee that you clearly do not like. Aren't they so thoughtful??

Teaching your dog that you are the master isn't necessary, either. If you do it right, they'll figure it out (if you feel that that's even necessary - personally, I do not...) If you provide the shelter, food, water, guidance and exercise you will be seen as very valuable to your dog. That's when you have the decision: either command that your dog listen via force, etc. or teach your dog to trust you via proper positive-reinforcement training. That final piece is what contributes to the relationship you will have with your dog. And it's the relationship that determines whether the dog looks to you for true guidance.

So, instead of me getting on a soapbox every time someone refers to me as the Dog Whisperer, how would you suggest I tactfully and politely decline this title?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Kuna's Intro to the Dremmel

Please excuse the background noise...LOL...the kids were watching TV. What better distracting environment than a 5 and 3 year old??

First, I started with the dremmel off. Then, I turned it on and just had it near him. Finally, I turned it back off and got him used to it touching his paws. The video is false advertising: this is NOT Kuna's first go-round with the dremmel. We had been working on it the day prior...

Lots of treats were involved in the making of this video!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mistakes in Training

As any good trainer will tell you, there's always something new to learn about dog training. We certainly don't have all the answers and our own dogs are not perfectly obedient. Moreover, we make mistakes too. Big ones, small ones - it doesn't matter. They're there. Being able to identify your mistakes and move forward from them is what is so wonderful about clicker training and positive reinforcement training. Thank goodness, because I've made a teensy-weensy mistake myself...

Kuna is coming along nicely with his clicker training. He now understands what the click means and when he hears it, he will repeat the behavior that earned it. Yesterday, I was working on "kennel" with him. We had been training for about 6 minutes when all of a sudden, he peed. I picked him up to interrupt his stream (which I noted was minimal) and took him outside. No harm, no foul. That was my fault. Later that afternoon, we were training again and he peed! Again, it was not a lot and he had just gone to the bathroom right before we started training. That's when it raised a flag in my head. Of course, he's not housebroken at all but to pee in the middle of getting food and right after he had already gone told me this was no ordinary pee. Kuna is stressed.

One of my mistakes was that I didn't have a timer...I only assume I had been working with him for about 6 minutes. Today, I timed us during our training session. We were working on "lie down". Sure enough, at 4 minutes and 35 seconds, Kuna peed again. Bingo. I had been pushing him too far. Learning new behaviors is tough on a puppy and while clicker training can be fun, it's also work. It takes a lot of puppy brain power to figure out what's going on!

To counteract the damage I have done (I don't want Kuna stressing every time the clicker comes out), throughout the day I am asking for a "sit", clicking and treating and then ending it there.  Next time I walk by his x-pen, I click/treat him for not jumping. That's it. We will still have to work in sessions, which I will now keep to about 3 minutes to make sure he doesn't overload his puppy brain.

Thankfully, we are not working with corrections! If I had been trying to get him to lie down by using force, it would have definitely stressed him out a lot more! And the damage caused by that would be much more significant!

Something to keep in mind when training your own puppy!


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shame On Me

Spending the weekend with Laurie Luck, assisting with her Karen Pryor Academy class, made me feel a bit, shall we say, neglectful of my own dogs' training. There are three canines in the family now, which makes time management (not to mention space management!) a top priority. It seems there is just never enough time in a day to help people train their dogs AND train my own. Shame on me. I raced home from the workshop today and immediately grabbed my clicker and treats and my dogs got to brush up on their skills.

B, as any semi-devoted reader of this blog knows, is my trouble-child with issues pouring out her cute little puggle eyeballs. She also happens to be my star performer; however, if you ain't fast enough, clear enough or precise enough, she'll quit you in a heartbeat. With Bizz, you need a plan before going in. Today, we worked on what I like to call the "Do This Drill". I write behaviors that I know Bizz is good at on a separate piece of paper for each. Then, I shuffle all the papers and randomly pull behaviors out, one at a time but very quickly. Of course, a successful behavior equals click and treat. Each behavior that has to be cued more than once (which should be none, but you'd be surprised when you give this game a try) goes in to a separate pile.  That tells me what behaviors we need to work on. Once we work on them, back in to the main pile they go and we go another round. This game helps increase Bizz's fluency and speed but also helps me work on my mechanical skills too: treat delivery, stance/body language, cue usage, etc. Try it! It's a really fun game!

Next was Sarah's turn. Man oh man. When you're a good dog, you really get the cold-shoulder sometimes. We always joke that Sarah's "reward" for being so well-behaved is that she never actually gets to train! Today we worked on "What's Different?" - a game where I have Sarah leave the room and I introduce a new item in the room that wasn't there before. When she comes back in, I am looking for her to a) acknowledge there's a new item and b) try something with it! My new item: a lemonade powder mix container.  She at first walked around the room sniffing everything and when she got to the lemonade container, I clicked and treated her. Then, I started to slowly click her for doing something with the container. Within 5 minutes, I had Sarah pawing the container with just her front left paw and ignoring everything else in the room. Then, I took her out again and started the game with a new item.

Then there was Kuna. Again: shame on me. This poor boy just learned what the clicker was yesterday and we've had him for 2 weeks now. tsk, tsk, tsk. Last night, we started working on sit. Now he sits beautifully and on cue, in just a day. As a trainer, however, I don't want a dog that defaults to sit. This is just my personal preference, but I want a dog that will only sit when asked (I'm only talking about during training sessions...he can sit whenever he wants to outside of that).  When we're training, I want him to be creative. If he sees that we're training, I want him thinking, "how can I manipulate my environment to get a treat?" I placed a ceramic bowl upside down on the kitchen floor and waited. He sat. I gave no response. He hopped. I gave no response. He looked around with his goofy little puppy head bobbing and barked. Nothing. Then, he looked at the bowl. I clicked and treated. Immediately after he finished eating the treat, he tried the bowl again. Click, treat. I kid you not, I had that boy touching the bowl with his nose within minutes. Is this single behavior going to get me the best behaved dog on the block? No way. But it will get me a dog that thinks. Stay tuned as I start documenting Kuna's progress. He's the first dog in this house that will be clicker trained from the start! And shame on me if I don't get away from this computer and back to training my dogs!