Monday, January 31, 2011

That Truffling B*tch

Okay, so it's a harsh hilarious title. J came up with it and it literally made me laugh out loud. So it stuck.

But what's important here is: what do you think of when you read "truffles"? If you're anything like me, you instantly have visions of See's Candies dancing around your head. Mmmmm....Chocolate Truffles....
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered today (for the first my 30's!) that truffles are also known as a certain type of mushrooms! I had no idea!!! I feel like I'm the last to find out!

(I love mushrooms but this picture makes me eeewwww!)

Photo: Fatal Foodies
As if the Internets ever let you leave after just one website, I found out through link-hopping that truffle hogs are used to snort out truffles. One big snag: they tend to eat them once they've located them. It'd be like sending me on a chocolate truffle hunt - I'd somehow never seem to find any. ;) Nom, nom, nom.

Of course, you can guess where this is leading. Enter: Dog the Truffle Hunter!

Dogs aren't too fond of truffles and would prefer something more tasty and less "earthy" as a reward. (Which I don't quite understand, considering how excited the dogs get when walking through a field full of geese...GUH-ROSS!)

Photo: C. Jones
When I visited the webpage Fun Facts About Fungi -- every group has its share of nerds...hello! have you ever been to a dog training convention! We're totally geeky! -- I was pleased as punch to read how the hunters train their dogs. With treats and rewards! Hooray!
Guess what West Coasters!?! This weekend marked the 6th annual Oregon Truffle Festival in Eugene, Oregon, complete with a Truffle Dog Training Seminar, complete with odor detection instruction and everything! Nose work to the max! If Kuna wasn't such a garbage disposal, I'd sign him up for this! But I just can't trust that kid around anything that will fit in between his teeth. (Well, that and the fact that we're on the wrong coast for this particular event.)

So, while I'm totally embarrassed I had no idea what truffles are, I'm super excited to find out about yet another wonderful way dogs animals help out their human friends!!

Go ahead - you can tell me. You totally knew about truffles, truffle hogs and truffle dogs...didn't you? DIDN'T YOU! sigh.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fido's Photo Friday

Hey all! It's a later post today but I'm hoping folks still want to get involved! All you've got to do is link-up using the link below or email your photo to and I'll add your pic to the post!

Looking forward to seeing all your pups! If you've submitted one in the past, that's fine! We know that if you're dog-crazy like us, you've got a million pictures!

Here's one of Bizzle to get things started!! Awww...look at my sweet girl!

Sheldon and his BFF
Photo: T. Vega

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Clicker Con 2011 - Newport Beach, CA

First off, shame on the Karen Pryor Clicker Training staff who had a hand in planning Clicker Expo in the gorgeous state of California. Because, really, who can concentrate when the day outside looks like this:

and this:

But then again, Clicker Expo is all about training, behavior, animals - 

it just makes my head spin in the most enjoyable way!

So, while it's always hard to choose between fun in the sun and dog training, I will always go to the dogs!

Here's a recap of our visit to Newport Beach, CA:

We traveled with our dog training bestie, Smart Dog University's owner Laurie Luck:

We learned about micro-shaping, super skills, back chaining and the value of fine tuning your observation skills...

We got to speak with like-minded people about positive reinforcement training and how it's not just "nice" for the learner, it's smarter...

But the highlight of the expo had to be the Saturday dinner with guest speaker, Victoria Stilwell:

You may have heard of her: she's the star of It's Me or the Dog on Animal Planet and she's pretty awesome. She's helping trainers like us spread the word of dog-friendly training, encouraging the public to educate themselves and make humane choices when it comes to teaching their pups. 

Oh! and just in case you haven't heard, Ms. Stilwell also helped my lovely boyfriend propose to me. :)

That's right, folks. This dog trainer is now officially spoken for with some bling on her finger. 

And he proposed to me at a dog training convention - [bats her eyelashes] he's so dreamy - by having an internationally known dog trainer ask, "Does anyone in the audience have a question?"

That's when he stood up and said "I have a question, Victoria, but it's not for you...

...I don't know how many of you know Erica but for those of you who do, you may know that she's an amazing dog trainer and an incredible woman. I've told her many times that I want the whole world to know how much I love her and I figured I'd start with all of you here tonight..." 

That's about when he did this:

And made me cry like this:

And of course, I said yes:

I know. This is a dog training blog. But let's be honest: I wouldn't be half the dog trainer that I am today without the support of my lovely, J. So it deserves mentioning in this forum. Plus, what dog-crazy girl wouldn't want the man of her dreams to propose to her at the largest positive trainer expo in the world??? 

I got to say thank you to Karen Pryor and Aaron Clayton for their help coordinating such an awesome proposal:

and we got to thank Victoria herself:

but a humongous, super-huge thank you to my friend, Laurie, who helped coordinate the whole proposal  with my fiance. She's a doll, isn't she!?

And although the expo is officially over (major sad face on that one), I will forever remember Clicker Expo 2011 above all others. 

Thank you J for being the man of my dreams and I look forward to forever with you. I just hope you can put up with this crazy dog trainer for that long ;)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Taking a Question From the Audience: Why is my dog scared of me?

"...We have 2 dogs. 1 is a female puppy. She's 2 years old. My wife got her while I was deployed to Iraq...I've never had a dog act like she's scared of me. I haven't done one bad thing to that dog, and all I have to do is walk towards her, and she runs under the bed...I can pet her when she's laying on the couch, but if I approach her in what she feels a threatening way, you can tell that she's nervous. I've been back from deployment over a year now, and that dog still doesn't want to warm up to me. I'm at a loss of trying to be friends with that dog. I thought dogs were MAN's best friend..." -- J.T.

Dear J.T.,

Such a great question and thank you for letting me answer it in this forum; you are not alone.

There are several key players in your dog's behavior, the most prominent being genetics, physiological abnormalities, and inadequate early socialization. We will discuss the latter because really, it's the only one you can "change" or make right.

What is canine socialization?
We discussed in a previous post that properly socializing your dog is defined as "exposing them to as much different stuff as you possibly can and doing so in a controlled and positive manner."

The socialization window
The critical socialization window closes around 4 months.
After that, it is in your dog's nature to become wary of new things. Think about it: the mother is taking care of her young pups, showing them the world of being a dog. After that, they're on their own.

In the wild, a scared dog lives to see another day.
My guess, without knowing your dog's history or their past and only knowing what you've presented in your question, is that your dog has not been properly socialized to you.

What you've done correctly:
You mention that if you move towards her in "what she feels [is] a threatening way, you can tell that she's nervous" - those words are very important. I commend you for noticing that she's nervous and give you even more points for understanding that it's her perception that counts most and not yours.

What next?
Now you want to convince her through action that you are no threat. But first...

Imagine you are afraid of spiders. The very sight of them makes you nervous and sweaty. Would having someone place a spider directly in your hand make you get over this fear immediately? What if they repeatedly, day after day, put a spider in your hand? Would you be "cured"? Or would you begin to dread this every day...knowing the routine, expecting that someone will be approaching you any minute now with that icky, creepy spider?

The point: forcing your dog to "face her fears" doesn't help. It can make things worse.

Go from here...
When you enter the room, toss treats to her and:
- always look the other way. Direct eye contact is intimidating.
- let your wife do the handling for now. Putting the leash on, holding, petting - that's all going to have to be on your dog's terms. For now, let your wife handle it.

Your original question was "Why" - I started to answer the underlying "how do I fix it" question. ;) It's important to take it slow. I strongly encourage you to read up on fearful dogs and how to train them through positive reinforcement. Your dog will need to learn to trust you and positive associations will help with that.

There are many training behaviors you can learn as well that will increase her confidence, such as targeting. I encourage you to post any questions or progress you have right here on the blog - many skilled and talented trainers stop by here on the regular and can provide intelligent input as well!

Good luck to you!

Happy training!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Crazy Traiiiin-ing

"I'm goin off the rails on a crazy train! "

Okay. So it's a stretch for a title. But sometimes things are just a wee bit goofy here. Like this evening, when I was trying to train the dogs. I had my clicker and we all know how that goes...

Bizzle starts woo-woo-wooing at me and Kuna starts biting everything within reach. So I did what anyone would do: I grabbed my camera so I could prove it.

Now, there's one rule to watching this video: you must not judge me for the piles of papers everywhere. I'm busy. Filing, sorting and organizing is on my list of things to do...if I could just find that list...

Let's note some things: That was one killer "leave it" from Kuna, considering there were tortillas sitting right at his nose. And what the hell was Bizzle thinking!? Sometimes she can be more cat-like than any dog I've ever known. I can't watch this video without cracking up - when I told her "off" she looked around like she had no idea how to get off this thing. Maybe that's because I've never taught them on/off with the dining room table....LMAO

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Know When To Fold 'Em...

What does a Kenny Rogers song have to do with training your dog? Oh come know us better than that. It's got everything to do with it!

One of the most important tools you can have in your dog training toolbox: the ability to know when you or your dog are juuuuuuust about to quit. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Kuna is a quitter. What can I say: He's been clicker trained from the start and he's a happy-go-lucky guy but darn it, you put him in class for longer than 4 minutes and he QUITS. Raise criteria in the same 2 minute session!?!? Pssssssssss....

Bizzle's a marathon trainer. Like a Duracell battery (ding, dong. DING!), she will keep repeating the same behavior over and over as long as that's what keeps getting reinforced. You can raise the criteria easily with B, as long as it's done simply and in baby steps. And Don't. You. DARE! end that session early or you'll have one pissed off puggle on your hands.

Sarah will change the game on her own. You may be targeting for one second and suddenly, she doesn't want to play that game anymore. Now she wants to play "Paw". Then she's done playing "Paw" - now she wants to play "Sit". Sarah will only last about 30 seconds this way, since "if I didn't ask, you don't get paid." She's also MANIC when it comes to treats. You've got to take it very slowly with Big S...or she'll eat your hand! Ewww...

Don't be afraid to study your dog - take notes, use video - anything you need to do to better understand your pup and make learning more enjoyable is Kahuna's K9s approved ;)

Happy Training makes Happy Dogs!

Blog the Change for Animals: Where'd you get your dog?

January 15th is the day slated for the annual Farmerstown, Ohio dog auctions. It doesn't have a more romantic name because, well, it's not intimate.  It's heartless. Unkind. The sort of event that makes this dog trainer lover hurl.

They do just that: they auction off dogs to be bred to make more puppies to make more money by being sold to the public or auctioned off again. The cycle just won't quit.

Dogs aren't companions in this game. They aren't cute, fuzzy, hilarious critters that make your heart melt. In this world, they come with price tags, barcodes and numbers instead of names.

I'm not telling this story because I am high-and-mighty and want others to feel ashamed for not knowing the dark world of puppy mills. I support the anti-puppy mill movements because it hits me on a personal level.

I didn't know what puppy mills are.

I adopted a puppy mill dog:

Let me be more specific: I didn't think that happened in my town. I thought that happened somewhere else, in someone else's city.

I rant this rant not because I'm blaming people who own puppy mill pups; I'm not chastizing anyone for buying a dog from the Internet, a shady breeder, or a pet store. I'm angry at the law makers that don't stop this madness. I'm pissed that no one from the industry will educate consumers about what goes on behind the scenes. No one told me what to look for when buying a dog until I started asking "why is my new puppy so high-strung and anxious all the time?" "Why does she have so many issues!?" It wasn't until the store was under scrutiny that I realized, "holy crap. What have I done?"

I'm not blaming the pet owner here. You don't know what you don't know.

Education is key.

If you absolutely want to buy from a breeder
Pssst: no reputable breeder would sell to a pet store. They take too much pride in their dogs to just pass them off for some quick bucks. They don't want some Joe-Schmoe from off the streets adopting their dogs. They want their dogs going to the best homes possible. Speaking for Spot has an excellent article in their blog describing what to look for in a good breeder.

If you want to avoid (and STOP) puppy mills
Websites like this, this and this have a lot of information on how to stop puppy mills.

Adopt from a shelter
Look, I know some people will disagree. Hell, I might even purchase from a breeder in the future (after a lot of research!!!) I'm torn - I say breeder but my heart says shelter. Shelter dogs need a home, that's all there is to it. And shelters are full of dogs that were given up for behavior problems that can be easily solved with a good trainer such as jumping, house-training, etc.

Just don't get your dog from a puppy mill
They are everywhere. Yourtown, USA is not exempt. Don't think "oh, this pet store is really clean. It doesn't look like a place that would take part in something shady." That's part of the gig. A pig with lipstick on. Satan in a Sunday hat.

Animals are suffering and people who take part in stupid things like Dog Auctions are just helping the hurt.

Be the Change, Blog the Change. Spread the word about puppy mills and dog auctions.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fido's Photo Friday

So, this is a new thing I thought of...I'm impulsive, what can I say? At first, I thought I would do just one photo for every Friday. But then, once people started sending in pictures of their dogs, I couldn't help myself - I want people to see them now!

So, send in your pics by email to or by joining in the linky using the "Click Here" at the end of this post.

Here's one of Kuna to kick things off - anyone out there have any good ideas for a caption?

Do you have any photos you'd like to submit? We'd love to see your silly and furry friends!!

Email with the subject line: Fido's Photo Friday. 

If dogs had arranged marriages, this would be Bizzle's future husband.
Photo: According to Gus

Kenzo...walking on water!?
Photo: Kenzo_HW

You talkin' to me?
Photo: J.Kesling

Sheldon vs. Yard Sprinklers
Guess who won?
Photo: T.Vega

Seriously, with a face like that, there's nothin' this Samson won't get...
photo: N.Tracht

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Clicker Trainer's Curse

She's pretty sure someone's getting a treat in the other room
If you use the clicker, you know the drill: grab the treats, grab the clicker, begin training.

But what if you're just trying to dust the shelves in your living room and there's a clicker sitting up there? If your canines are anything like mine, that clicker packs just as much punch as the crinkle of a treat bag.

As I grab the clicker to move it out of my way, it makes that trademark metal-screechy sound across the wood of the shelf. Oh no. I freeze, like a mother of a newborn who's just been put to bed. Maybe if I don't move, they'll think it was just a noise from outside.

All the dogs faces whip in my direction with their necks fully elongated like a goose. Doh. They caught me.

That's the terrible thing about clicker training. It's too good! All I have to do is walk towards a clicker in the house and my four-leggeds go bonkers. They want to learn! They want so desperately to play in my game. Ugh!

Do you remember how I've been clicker training TAGteaching the kids? Well, that too has blown up in my face.

I asked L the other day, "do you know mine and Daddy's phone number in case of an emergency?"
"You don't! OMG! We need to get you to memorize those because it's really important...."
"We could learn by doing clicker training!!" **Eye roll**

D has a terrible time wiping her hands at the table. She's 3 but I swear, sometimes I expect her to have table manners of a 25 year old Southern Belle who grew up in a charm school. It's not fair of me, I know this.
"D! You're getting your elbows in your food! Watch what you're doing!"
"But I'm wiping my hands after I eat!"
"Don't reach for your napkin over your it by bringing the napkin to you..."
"Maybe I would learn better if we clicker trained!"

Now all I hear is "OO! Can we clicker train?" and "You could teach me something new with clicker training!" and "YAY! We love clicker training!"

It's become a curse, really. I can't get away from it. I can't just expect the kids to learn stuff through my constant nit-picking anymore. Now I have to actually teach them. And because I know better, I can't teach them with "Don't do this..." and "Don't do that..." Now I have to teach them using TAGpoints and a positive learning environment.

How the hell do you teach a phone number using clicker training!?!
I racked my brain for a couple days trying to figure that one out. How do you teach a 3 and 5 year old to memorize phone numbers by marking the correct answer and ignoring the wrong one? How do I set up the environment to make sure they will be successful?

The other sucky thing about clicker training: it challenges you to be creative.

I ended up using repitition and visual learning. Then I:

- broke down the phone number in easier sections
- wrote out the numbers and made the TAGpoint, "Trace over the numbers". We repeated this part twice.
- had them write the numbers they just traced
- asked them to write the numbers again, this time saying them out-loud
- asked them to read all the numbers on the paper out-loud
- covered the paper and asked them to repeat the numbers they remember seeing and saying.

Within 10 minutes each, they remembered the entire phone numbers. Without any practice or review, the next morning my 5 year old could still repeat the whole phone number. The 3 year old needed a little help. Amazing stuff, huh?

So, as you can see, now I have the dogs AND the kids begging to be clicker trained.

Case in point: I wanted to work with Kuna this past Saturday. When I started thinking of the logistics, I exhausted myself before starting! "Okay, well, I'd have to put Bizz in the other room because she'll just bark the whole time and then Sarah will howl at us because she wants to train. OMG! If I bring out the clicker, the kids will remember how I promised to train with them this weekend and I just don't have the energy right now..." See what I mean??

Feel bad for me, dog lovers! This is serious! It's not my fault that the clicker is so powerful! Why do I have to pay for the fact that everyone in my house wants to learn via operant conditioning!? I tell ya, it's a clicker trainer's curse.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One Challenged Pet-Blogger

Bizzle Fo' Shizzle

I was über upset when I thought I missed the "Pet Blogger Challenge" hosted by Will My Dog Hate Me? and Go Pet-Friendly (two blogs I happen to lurk on the regular). Yesterday, at the last minute, I sat in front of my computer, ready to attack the keyboard, only to discover that this blasted sinus infection had melted every single one of my brain cells. 

Congestion is not the new hotness.

BUT! I decided, what the hay! I'll submit something anyway! That's when I discovered the deadline for entry was actually midnight tonight (January 11th). Woo-hoo! Let the challenge begin!

When did you begin your blog?

January 21, 2009 was the first entry, something about a daily quote (it took just three days before that idea went out the window). I didn't really do any research, I just hopped on the scene and by "scene" I mean that I wasn't really talking to anyone and no one knew I existed. 

What was your original purpose?

My reactive dog Bizzle started me on this journey - I talk about her often throughout the blog because she's been my most patient and knowledgable teacher. I wanted people to know that they're not alone, that training your dog is not always easy, even for the professionals. But the rewards?! Endless.

Is your current purpose the same?

I started blogging as a way to talk to people about dogs and now I find myself wanting to engage more in conversation...I'm wanting to talk with readers more than anything.  The blog is still packed with dog training advice and tips but I try to live up to the name of the blog more and take time to reflect on what I'm learning from my own life with dogs and hope that people can relate and learn. 

Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

Ha ha ha!! Oh, how I wish I had the discipline to write as much as I should! And on a schedule!? I don't even think I can pronounce that! I force myself to blog once a week, at the very least. Some months are more packed than others and some months just plain suck for blog entries.

Are you generating income from your blog?

I've tried figuring out how to do that because extra money is always nice but [hangs head] the answer is no.  I always find myself clicking on a million links and then somehow, I'm lost in cyberspace, googling "how to make a vegan cheesecake", forgetting what I started out to research. SQUIRREL!

What do you like most about blogging in general and your blog in particular (bragging is good!)?

I like that my blog has earned the title "Best Blog in the Universe" because, phew, how disappointing would that be if it wasn't!?

Blogging gives me a way to speak to dog lovers. Thankfully, my blog has a super secret code that doesn't allow readers to ever close the window, thereby forcing them to participate in doggy conversation on a daily basis, whether they like it or not. That really helps out my numbers.

Paws to Rufflect, if anything, is honest. I don't want people who are just starting their search for dog training answers to think that there's a quick fix. There is no diet pill for dog training. 

BTW, I've just been informed that a piece of toilet paper shaped like a first-place ribbon is not a legitimate award. Especially for a made-up prize such as "Best Blog in the Universe." One can dream.

What do you like least?

I get all super inspired, whip out a blog entry, proofread it and then can't help but ask myself, "Why would anyone want to read this sh--!?" 

Getting off track is a terrible habit of brain just zooms all over the place. I need to find a topic and focus on it and get the blog entry posted. There are about eleventy-million drafts right now waiting to be developed in to something...

How do you see your blog changing or growing in 2011?

No offense to Blogger but this is the year I'm going to join the Wordpress crew.

Also, I'd really like to see the articles take up less space and the comments take up more. I want to get to know more people through my blog and others...

Oh! And I think we'll be changing the name. I know, I know, all this mess about "Pawsing to Rufflect" and now I'm talking about changing that. But I'm Hawaiian. Kahuna's K9s is Hawaiian (if a business can have an ethnicity). So, that means the blog name, in order to stay true to my heart, should be Hawaiian. 

Bottom line: I want to challenge myself this year. Finishing this blog challenge was a pretty good start...