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!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Potty Training

Kuna is coming along really well with his potty training. I don't know if credit is due to our vigilance, his instinct, or a combination of both. We'll go with the latter. ;)

What we've done may seem neurotic, but it's worked so far. We keep a strict schedule of when he eats, pees and poops. Then, over time, we can look back at that schedule and see "uh-oh! get Kuna outside because it's time for him to potty!"

We take him from his crate and carry him outside. I'm not a big advocate of carrying a puppy everywhere - I think it's important that they learn to walk with you, especially with a leash. But when it comes to going outside, I don't want him taking any spare moment on the trip to the yard to have an accident. We carry him to the grass, set him down and say "go potty" and sure enough, seconds later, he's "going potty".

Last night, we had some pretty good rain. It was pelting down on both of us when I took Kuna out for his nighttime pee and he just wasn't in the mood to go to the bathroom. I don't blame him - I didn't want to be out there either! So, I carried him inside, grabbed a pee-pad and put it on the bathroom floor.  I set him down and said "go potty" and voila! We have potty! This was a huge sign that we're on our way to having a dog that housebroken.

My advice to you: stick to a schedule and follow it to a tee. If you deviate, you may find that your dog has more accidents in the house! Carry your dog to the bathroom so he doesn't have an accident on the way there. Set him down, say your phrase for going to the bathroom and then praise upon successful elimination! :)


Monday, July 12, 2010

If You Love Your Dog, Let Them Nose

I am a huge advocate of "games" for dogs. Not just tug or chase, but games that stimulate their senses. While I am no scientist, researcher or veterinarian, I am of the personal opinion that dogs need mental exercise maybe just a bit more than physical exercise. This in no way suggests that physical exercise should go to the bottom of your dog's to-do list, but chat with me a moment while I discuss your dog's mental stimulation and perhaps you'll see why it is so important.

Many of us take our dogs for walks, sticking to the sidewalk or the beaten path, on a journey that our dogs have taken countless times before. To us, it often becomes a chore and so we choose to walk up the sidewalk, down the block and call it a day. Done. Dog walked. On to our next chore of the day.  Or worse yet, there are those of us with a yard big enough for a dog to roam and smell, so we skip the walk thinking the yard is sufficient exercise. The bigger the yard, the less exercise our dogs tend to get. When clients tell me this is the exercise their dogs get, I literally feel a sadness in my heart. For this is not what dogs were built for and as much as we have bred dogs to serve our needs, their superior senses have survived to be passed down through the centuries.

Whether they're small, extra-large, designer or country born and bred, your dog has senses that blow ours out of the water. They can smell something miles away. Miles. Think about that. And while you're outside on your porch enjoying your cup of coffee in the morning, your dog sitting next to you could probably tell you what your neighbor a block away had for breakfast yesterday - if only they could just get the words out. (I often wish I knew what my dogs were thinking, but immediately retract that.  I like that I don't know whether my dogs are judging me or not. Ignorance is bliss). Exercise that is restricted to playing in the yard is like telling a marathon runner they can only run on the treadmill. It's not the act of exercising that's so stimulating, it's the experience.  The smells, the sights - your dog has these senses and yet they often go to waste as your dog lies on the couch awaiting your return home.

I told a client once that his dog needed more mental exercise because he was destroying things in the home. I suggested taking his meals and tossing the kibble in the yard, scattering it everywhere and letting his dog use his nose for "the hunt". The owner was disappointed in my suggestion. He'd saved this dog from the shelter and planned to let him live in the lap of luxury for the rest of his existence. He wasn't about to let his dog eat out of the dirt. When I explained that pigs aren't the only animal happy in dirt, he started to loosen up. :)

I don't want it to sound like walking your dog or letting them enjoy the yard should be restricted from your dog's schedule. Walks are great - try making them better by choosing different paths and leaving the sidewalk when you can. Playing in the yard is good too - interact with your dog with a fast-paced game of fetch, toss treats/kibble out in the yard for them to find, hide tupperware with food throughout the yard and provide them with lots of things to do. What I want to encourage is your creativity.  I promise you, the more creative you get, the more you'll get to know your dog. You may discover you've got a smarter dog than you thought! And when the games are over and your dog is exhausted, you may also be surprised to find they aren't getting in as much trouble - because who has time to chew on socks when you're dog-tired?

Happy training!


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Playing Mind Games

We've had Kuna for six days and this dog trainer is already learning so much! Most significant of all, we had the problem of Kuna not sleeping through the night. I'm talkin' up every 30 minutes to go to the bathroom, play or just be obnoxious! I know it's a lot to ask of a baby, so I tried not to hold it against him. But I just kept thinking, "this has got to get easier! How!?" After consulting my friend, Laurie Luck, who happens to be an expert in all things puppy, she suggested I tire him out more. Well, duh. We all know that dogs need to be tired! But if I'm being honest, all we did to tire him out was play with him and some toys throughout the day and then let him sleep when he was done. This was affording him so much snooze time during the day that of course he couldn't sleep at night! To get puppy to burn off even more energy, we decided that he should have puzzles and games just like our older dogs. Here are some ideas we've found really helpful:

Tupperware Tackle
Items needed:
2 small, Glad-like tupperwares
1 lid
5 - 10 pieces of dog's kibble

Place about 5 pieces of food in the tupperware. Set the second tupperware inside, creating a stack. Put remaining dog food in the top tupperware and put the lid on. Watch your puppy figure out how to get to their food!

T-Shirt Wrap
1 old t-shirt you don't mind getting destroyed
10 - 20 pieces of dog's kibble

Wrap your dog's food in the shirt, place pieces in different places throughout the shirt, bundle it up really tight and let your puppy have at it!

Protein Drink
Items needed:
1 empty water bottle with lid removed
all the puppy's food for that meal

Pour all of your dog's kibble inside the water bottle and let him try to figure out how to get the food. This may require you making the game a little easier - if you find your dog losing interest before all the food is gone, try cutting the mouth of the bottle off. You can also cut several openings in the bottle for food to fall out. This game is also great because your dog gets used to the sound of the water bottle crackling and it's immediately associated with good stuff like food!

These are just a few examples of how to make mealtime and playtime one in the same! We've definitely seen a difference in Kuna's nighttime habits - he slept until 5 am today for the first time! Combining these mealtime practices with a regular routine of play and exercise will help your new puppy work off that extra energy! As we speak, Kuna is sleeping on my laptop's shift key...snoring away. :)

**The games described above require constant adult supervision. Please do not leave your puppy unattended while playing with these items**

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kuna arrives!

Well, it's been one busy month! I won't waste valuable computer bits rehashing these last five weeks - just know that everyone is alive and well.  The most recent and significant change: there's a new boy in the family. That's right: we're fostering a terrier/hound mix, 5 - 6 weeks old with cuteness seeping out of his pores. We named him Kuna - the fact that my boyfriend already named him pretty much means we've adopted him, but we keep telling ourselves it's temporary.

I always told myself that if I found a dog B could tolerate, I would adopt him/her right there. For all these years, I never understood what it was about our last foster that granted him safe access in to our home without B's world being turned upside-down. Shame on me for not thinking outside of the box. I was thinking it was only because he was a puppy. That could still be part of it but more importantly, he was a HE. B doesn't care so much for the drama that females bring - she's got enough of it to last a life time. So J and I said that if we found the right dog, he'd at least have to be a boy. :)

After only a few days of volunteering as a trainer at the Calvert Animal Welfare League, we found Kuna.

All he does right now is eat, sleep, pee, poop. Oh! And WHINE! This boy whines alllll through the night. But it's okay. I keep telling myself: his training has begun. If you go open his crate while he's whining, it will never stop. 

I also forgot how much a puppy doesn't know! He doesn't know:
what a leash is
how to navigate stairs 
what the sound of plastic opening could potentially mean...

He also didn't know some very important puppy lessons that can be taught by an appropriate older dog. Surprisingly, that has turned out to be Bizzle! The one dog who I thought was clueless about dog body language.

Kuna kept trying to follow her into her kennel. I lured him out of there before disaster struck, but he was very persistent. When it came time to feed her, he slipped from my hands and went for her food (I wasn't feeling worried for his safety, so you can understand why I was kind of thinking, "well, let's see what transpires.") He not only went for her food, but jumped on her head while she was eating! B emitted a low grumble...VERY appropriate for such foolish behavior! Kuna backed off immediately on his own and for the rest of B's meal, he sat at a safe distance from B and her food. She never repeated herself or got out of hand. Her stern voice told him, "You better back up kid..." and that was all that had to be said. What a great lesson for them both: B learns that using appropriate reactions works and K learns to be told only once.

I'm very interested in how B and K will learn to coexist...stay tuned for new puppy updates! We're back in the blogging saddle with plenty of new stuff to talk about!