Category Archives: Dog Training

News about trends in dog training

Clicker Expo 2013: Ten Years of “WOW”

Karen Pryor and I
Karen Pryor and I

Clicker Expo, held twice a year and organized by the Karen Pryor Academy is a three-day conference where dog trainers and others that work with animals can attend to learn about trends in the industry and participate hands-on with their dogs on various learning labs.

I attended ClickerExpo in San Francisco this past January and was impressed with many aspects of the conference but the two main overarching pieces that I particularly appreciated was:

1) the scientific approach that premised most of the talks and

2) The emphasis on modeling with our human counterparts the very principles that behavior professionals practice and preach about .

I won’t bore you with the scientific approach piece, but I will tell you about the  impact #2 had on me.  As a professional dog trainer that applies the use of positive reinforcement principles, we reward desirable behavior with consequences that the subject deems valuable.  The theory is that behavior that is reinforced is likely to repeat.  So we go on and on talking about the importance of catching our dogs doing the right thing so we can reinforce them, and how it’s important to watch our dogs closely so that when desirable behavior occurs, we’re there to say, “that’s right, that’s what we wanted”.  In essence we teach people to be good observers of behavior and good at reinforcing good behavior.  Well, this is all good and dandy, but what about people?  How many times have we complained to our significant others about a million things but forgot to mention how grateful we were for that one tiny little thing that we really appreciated?  If you’re a manager, how many times have you focused on that one thing that your employee did wrong and forgot to mention how thankful you were for that one thing he/she did that made something else go really smoothly?

ClickerExpo 2013 in Sn Francisco, California
ClickerExpo 2013 in Sn Francisco, California

At ClickerExpo, we had opportunities to get better at reinforcing good human behavior.  Every time, someone did something you really appreciated, you had a chance to provide them with a raffle ticket.  The more raffle tickets you got, the higher your chances of winning the raffle items.

Just to give you an example, right before I attended the conference, I became deathly ill with some weird flu/virus type thing and one particular day of the conference, I had to exit several times in the middle of lectures so as not to disrupt the lecture with my cough and in order to prevent my germs from being shared.  Well, every time I did that and someone noticed, I got a raffle ticket.  For those that brought their dogs, every time someone caught them in the act of doing something right, whether it was exiting the room if the dog barked, or working at the dogs’ level in terms of space, they had an opportunity to get a raffle ticket.  And in general as you met people and conversed, anytime anyone did or said something you really appreciated, you had the opportunity to give them a raffle ticket.

When working with dogs, it’s really fascinating to see how well this principle works, but after ClickerExpo, I was pretty amazed to see how well this principle works with people too.  I got so good at it, I ran out of all my raffle tickets before the conference was over and I  got so many raffle tickets, I won a prize (maybe cause I was really sick, or maybe cause I was really nice–okay fine, probability had a little to do with it).  Nonetheless, it gets you modeling the principles of the work that you do day in and day out.  At the end of the day, you’re living the positive reinforcement life not only with dogs, but with the species that you can’t ever get away from…PEOPLE!  What a concept, it pays to be nice to people too.

To learn more about clicker training click here.

A Story About a Golden

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Here she is retrieving and then effectively guarding.

Since I’ve been thinking a lot about resource guarding and trying to understand it a little better.  I started to think about ways I could make Goldie willingly, on her own give me her toy.  One thing that occurred to me is that she first has to trust and like me.  So we spent the days in the park going for walks.  I would walk, call her and when she came, I would reward her.  The whole time that she walked by my side, I’d verbally mark her behavior with a high, happy pitched “Goooood”!  Constantly using the same verbiage, which consisted of “Goldie, Come”, “Gooooooood” and “Let’s Go”.  Remember, English as a second language for these guys.  She did well with that.

Next step was bringing out the frisbee.  The first few times she got the frisbee, she was clear with Stella and Rocco that they weren’t gonna have it.  I tried going over several times and she ran even further and shoved the pups away.  So I turned the other way, called Rocco and Stella and created fun for us away from her.  Pretty soon she found herself all alone with the frisbee.  Yikes!  What fun is that?  Meanwhile, Rocco and Stella are over here having all sorts of fun, running and getting praise and rewards for doing all kinds of neat things.  She soon realizes she wants to be part of that and rejoins us.  When she does, frisbee-less, she is welcomed, praised and reinforced for following using the same verbiage of “Goooooood”, “Let’s Go” and “Goldie, Come”.

The next step…drumroll please!  I introduced a game of trade.  I gave her the frisbee and asked her to trade for a treat.  And SHE DID!  So I gave it to her again, and asked to trade for a treat.  SHE DID AGAIN.  So I did it again and again .  You may know the drill.  If you’ve heard me say it once, you’ve heard me say it a million times.  Two times two is four.  Two times two is four.  They made you do it so much, you learned it.  Someone asks you now, “what’s two times two”?  You don’t even think about it.  “Four”.  IMHO repetition is key when you work with your dog.

As we drove home on Goldie’s last day with me, I thought she came along way and did really well with these exercises.  I could say that for her, holding on to toys is a very emotionally charged experience, but suffice it to say that it’s just a very big deal.  And this game of “trade” is certainly a better alternative to being rough and helps to develop a nice bond and a trusting relationship.

Street Girl to Lure Course Champion

Have you ever chased a dog after it almost got run over? If you’ve caught it, and then thought to yourself, “maybe I CAN have another dog”, or “how will my pack react to a new dog at home?”, then you should read on. Bella is a sweet female Basenji mix who didn’t always have it good. She was found in the streets of Bal Harbour, slashed face, hookworms, and running from everyone and everything. After struggling for hours to get her, Susana, in true private investigation mode, was determined to find her owners. She called on everyone from city officials to fisherman. She put signs and ads up all over the neighborhood and internet. She took her to the Humane Society and checked with other rescue organizations and after exhausting all options she made an agreement with a local pet resort for temporary housing of Bella.

The Fabulous Susana and Bella
The Fabulous Susana and Bella

After her experience with Bella, Susana said to me, “She taught me real dog things. The Chis just wanna shop and sip cappuccino, but Bella’s different. It took Susana over a month to properly introduce Bella to her 3 dogs. Baccarat, the eldest in Susana’s pack, had the most trouble. Susana did everything from Google searches to basic obedience and socialization classes. She read lots of books and learned in depth about Basenjis. “Learning about Bella’s breed helped me understand her behavior and how best to create situations where she could exercise her natural instincts”. Hmm, I thought, maybe instead of chasing after that retriever when he picks up things with his mouth, why not teach him to “give it”? Retrievers are very mouthy. And I know from experience, mine is always looking for something to put in his mouth. His new thing now, is he greets me with anything in his mouth. I can picture him as the key slides into the key-hole, perking up and thinking “must retrieve her something, STAT! Remote control. DONE”. Well, at least we’ve stopped the jumping. I hold my hand out, ask him to “give it” and he proudly, feeling like he’s a superstar, complies and proceeds to find something else he can bring me.

Check out these photos of how Susana’s made Bella a superstar at what she does.

 

Southeastern Guide Dogs

Southeastern Guide Dogs give visually-impaired an opportunity at independence and freedom

It was a beautiful sunny morning and I, naturally, gravitated toward the beautiful black lab.  Later on when we were in the park, his handler said to me, “he’s a service dog, I’m visually impaired”.  At that very moment, my interest in this beauty shifted to admiration.  Robbie’s life had completely changed when she was diagnosed with Usher’s Syndrome.  A disease which in her case, causes her to gradually lose her vision and hearing.  She wasn’t sure she wanted a service dog.  She had dogs throughout her life, but at this point in the game, she wasn’t sure she could handle the long term commitment and responsibility…then she met Spike and everything changed.  “Bonding was instant”, says Robbie “trust was a bit harder”.  Nonetheless, she knew to go with the flow of whatever led her to Southeastern Guide Dogs, a school based out of Palmetto, Florida that trains and provides the visually impaired with guide dogs.  “I couldn’t believe it when I received the call notifying me that I had been selected, they provided the guide dog, equipment, single-room lodging, all meals, outings, instruction for 26 days and post-graduation support completely free of cost”.   If that’s not impressive enough, Southeastern Guide Dogs is a non-profit organization fully supported by private donations.  Most of the staff at the school are volunteers that truly believe in the cause.

Match made in heaven
Match-making is a detailed, thoughtful process that begins with a representative actually conducting a home visit.  They look at the area where the person lives taking into account whether it’s a rural or urban location.  Lifestyle of the person is also a consideration, so that an active or sedentary person may be placed with the appropriate dog.  Additionally, trainers assess the person’s pace, pull and pressure in order to match them up with a dog that will be fitting.  According to Jennifer Bement, Public Relations Specialist at Southeastern Guide Dogs, trainers make perfect match-ups about 85% of the times on the first attempt, with only 10-15% of the times where a change in dog is required.

One of the things I was most impressed with is that Southeastern Guide Dogs not only has this amazing program of placing dogs with visually impaired people, but also they have programs for Veterans and children.  The Canine Connections program is specifically designed for visually impaired children ages 10-17 and the Paws for Patriots Program places guide dogs with blinded soldiers.  Some dogs are even trained to show empathy to help mitigate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and some will hug veterans on command when they are having a flashback or an anxiety attack.  I was so touched when I heard about this and about Robbie and Spike’s story that I had to get in touch with Southeastern Guide Dogs and spread the word about all the wonderful things they are doing to help those in need.  Please look them up at www.guidedogs.org and if you are so inclined, make a donation to benefit their cause.  Also stay tuned for fundraising events here in our local area and hats off to these wonderful dogs that make such a difference in our lives.

National Train Your Dog Month: Part II Reasonable Training with Nadine Litterman

So as you may know, Rocco’s loose-leash walking video received some recognition from APDT earlier this year for National Train Your Dog Month.  Although I was very flattered, I wanted to share the credit with a very special dog person, canine interpreter, rescue advocate and all around good person, who helped turn Rocco into a Canine Good Citizen.  Specializing in socializing shy and rescue dogs, trainer, AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator and owner of Rollover Rover Dog Training, Nadine Litterman.  “A lot of the dogs that come here are rescue dogs, that’s why they need to be socialized.  They’ve never known anything outside a cage”, says Nadine.  When asked to share a little bit about her theory for dog training, the word reasonable was key.  Not only are Nadine’s prices reasonable, but also “training needs to be tailored so that it’s reasonable for the dog, and the expectations of the owner must also be reasonable”.  Hmm, reasonable, makes sense…but what does that really mean?  She explained that there are important factors such as age, temperament, breed, upbringing and background that should always be taken into account before creating expectations.  Ah, I thought, just like people, some of us excel at some things and others at other things.  How unreasonable would it be if our parents expected and demanded that we all be marathon runners or Olympic swimmers, without taking into account our strengths, weaknesses, upbringing, knowledge, etc?  “Too often owners place unreasonable expectations on their dogs when they really should be focusing on ensuring their dogs are 100% social by showing good behavior toward people and other dogs”.  Another very important part of Nadine’s philosophy is walking your dog.  People need to walk their dog, even if the dog weighs .25 ounces, okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea. “You can’t keep your dog inside all the time and expect it to be good when it goes out and you can’t expect your dog to be well-behaved when you haven’t given it enough experiences for it to know what’s appropriate”.  This all makes so much sense, but then again that’s why Nadine’s a canine interpreter, it takes people like her to speak on behalf of our dogs for us to listen.  Here are some other tips from Nadine:

  • Don’t handicap your dog.  Let your dog figure things out for him/herself.  It’ll make him/her confident.
  • Dogs bark to communicate and they only do so when they have something important to say, or when they want you to do something.  Listen to them.  Yelling only makes them think that you’re barking with them.  And yelling their name can sometimes cause them to block their name out; which is a bad thing if you want him to come when called.
  • Be careful not to project human feelings onto your dog.
  • Having a backyard can be a double-edge sword.  While it’s nice for your dog to have the space to run around, it won’t give your dog the necessary exposure.  It’s still important for your dog to get his daily walks and have experiences outside your home and backyard.

Cool, huh?  Want to learn more?  Stop by Rollover Rovers at 1933 NE 164th Street in North Miami Beach or call her at 954-531-8421.  Nadine conducts private and group lessons and free small dog socialization on Wednesdays at 10:00 AM and 5:30 PM.  She’s also an activist against animal cruelty and an avid dog rescuer, always looking for foster homes.  So if you have some extra love for a doggie who’s had none, she wants you!

She's an evaluator
Nadine can train and then test your dog for AKC’s Canine Good Citizen