Thursday, April 26, 2012

Springtime Fun

This past weekend was beautiful - sunny and warm and ideal for being outside.  We had lots of fun being in the backyard, and the dogs enjoyed it too.  Ethan had been pestering me to use his new water balloons, so I finally relented.  I sat at the hose and filled and tied, filled and tied.  It was hard to stay ahead of Ethan as he would throw the balloons just about as fast as I could fill them, but we both had a good time.

Pistol is always excited for anything involving water, especially if the hose is out.  He's also an avid ball chaser, so Ethan had some fun throwing the balloons for Pistol.  Poor Pistol would excitedly chase after the balloon, then spin in confused circles where it had landed, looking for what he had been chasing.  It felt a little cruel, but the tail kept wagging and he kept asking for more.  I think Pistol is happy to chase regardless of the outcome.  A couple times he got ahead of Ethan and actually managed to "catch" the balloon.  Not better results than chasing it - there's still nothing to bring back, except a mouthful of water!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Successful Day

Saturday was a great day of progress for Brody. We've been working up to it the whole time he has been training, building foundation, building trust and creating meaning for the clicker.  Saturday was the culmination of everything we had worked on, and the true beginning of his counter-conditioning training.  I was worried about how Brody would react - while he's done very well so far, there are lots of things that can go wrong once all the cards are on the table and he comes face to face with his nemesis. 

I was worried that he would get stressed out and refuse to take treats, that he would start to ignore the sound of the click, or that I wouldn't be able to keep him under threshold.  Those are all common road blocks when working with a leash-reactive dog, so I had reason to be concerned.  But all our prep work (and my thoughtful planning of bringing several different kinds of treats) paid off.

The park we picked to work in on Saturday was perfect for what Brody needed.  It was busy - with a sunny, mid-70's spring day that wasn't a surprise.  Lots of kids and parents, noise and activity, but that wasn't what we were there for.  I got Brody all set up, leash clipped to his harness, my treat bag and clicker ready, and we headed to the edge of the park, by the sidewalk that ran around the perimeter.  That's where we found what we were looking for - a woman walking her dog.  The first dog we spotted was small, which was fine for a starting point. 

I got Brody to a distance that I thought was just close enough (or just far enough, depending on how you want to look at things!), then proceeded to click and treat at all the right times.  It was a fantastic exercise - textbook.  My timing was good, and I managed to keep Brody just under threshold all but one time (which I caught so quickly it didn't become an issue).  We made it by that dog without a single bark, so I gave him a little break and grabbed a few pictures.  Once I'd spotted the next dog I again set Brody up at a distance that felt right, and we again had a very successful session.

Throughout the couple hours we stayed at the park Brody got to encounter many dogs, and he continued to do very well.  If you think two hours sounds like a long time to train a dog, you're right.  It's too long.  But sometimes you have to take advantage of situations that are ripe for training, so I kept Brody from getting frazzled by mixing things up and taking lots of breaks.  A little work passing another dog, then some time to sit in the shade and relax.  A walk around the grass for sniffing and exploring, a trip over to the car to get a drink of cold water and some fresh treats, then scoping out another dog and taking up our position.

It's wonderful as a dog trainer to have things go well, especially when you have eager parents putting their trust in you, hoping that you will make great progress with their dog.  We still have a long way to go, but right now I'm very happy with how Brody is doing.

Have you ever had a dog that was reactive (towards dogs, people, cars or anything) when on leash?  What did you do to change their behavior, or what did you do to deal with it?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Technical Difficulties and Brody the Havanese

The good news is that the dog training is going well.  The bad news is that the video I'm trying to take of said dog training is not cooperating.  You'd think with multiple digital cameras (all with video recording capability and one with HD video), a phone (also with HD video, of course) and an actual video camera, something in my house would be able to capture the wondrous moments of my little board & train, Brody, learning to target.  But the problem, I'm finding, is that these video-recording devices want to be smarter than me.  Maybe they are.  At any rate, I am now waiting for my son's camera battery to charge (no, I don't want to hear about how I am using my five-year-old's camera to make a professional training video for my company).  Once that has completed I should be good to go and can resume working on Brody's target training.

You haven't met Brody yet.  He is a very sweet 5 1/2 year old Havanese who has an unfortunate habit of reacting (boldly and loudly) to other dogs when he is on a leash.  He's a good example of how one or two incidents can dramatically impact a dog - Brody has been attacked by another dog and has now taken on the attitude of "I'm gonna get you before you can get me!" 

On leash reactivity is a frustrating problem for many owners.  Their dog, who might be fine when meeting other dogs in a different situation, will turn into a little furry lunatic when faced with the scary prospect of seeing something that might hurt them (strange dog) when they are trapped, unable to escape (leash). 

Scared is an important part of the equation to remember.  To some owners it can be very difficult to imagine that their dog is acting out of fear.  The other dog may be posing no real threat, but reality is in the eye of the beholder.  When your dog initiates the altercation, barking and carrying on in a "Come on, you want a piece of me?!!? Bark! Bark! Growl.  I'll kick your butt!!! Bark! Bark!" fashion, how could he be afraid?  The answer, we think, is that the dog is acting in a manner that he believes will scare off the other dog, thus avoiding an actual fight. 

In many cases, without realising it, we are allowing this flawed presumption to be reinforced.  Any time the other dog leaves when your dog is reacting (even if they were just heading in the other direction any way), your dog gets to think, "Hey, all that carrying on worked!  I didn't get attacked and the other dog is leaving.  I guess I'll try that next time too."

So what do you do to prevent this very embarrassing and highly stressful situation from reoccurring every time you cross paths with another dog?  I do suggest getting professional help, as this can be a potentially dangerous situation, and your dog is showing pretty clearly that all is not right with their world.  But here are a few things you can do to keep things under control until a trainer gets you working on a specific behavior modification plan.

  1. Don't add more negative to an already scary situation.  It's likely that your dog is truly afraid and isn't displaying this unruly behavior just to irk you (dogs may poop on your rug or chew up your new shoes, but they are not capable of being vindictive - that charming trait is reserved for homo sapiens).  Correcting or punishing your dog only makes things worse, even if it appears to have a positive effect in the beginning.  Leash popping, poking, "psst'ing" or "alpha rolling" are unacceptable responses and are more likely to get you bit than they are to solve the problem.  Just because it's on TV doesn't make it true.
  2. Don't reinforce the behavior either.  Rewarding your dog, either intentionally or unintentionally gives your dog positive feedback for a reaction we don't want to continue.  Stroking him and "reassuring" him with "it's okay puppy, you're alright, you're my good boy" acts as reinforcement.  In addition, the more you fuss over the situation the more likely you are to send the message to your dog that something really is wrong - look how worked up Mom is getting!
  3. Stay below your dog's threshold whenever possible.  Threshold is a complex thing, but it's more or less the point at which your dog feels the need to react.  Going above your dog's threshold means he'll probably start barking, growling, lunging or exhibiting other "bad" behavior.  Threshold is not a static thing - it can be influenced by distance, intensity, size, gender, direction and many other factors.  Keeping your dog below threshold may simply be a matter of crossing the street when you see another dog approaching or walking your dog at a time of day that isn't as busy.
  4. Turn and walk the other way.  Remember the part about your dog thinking that his behavior chased the other dog away?  While it probably won't solve your dog's issues alone, it doesn't hurt to try to have your dog "leave" rather than letting him feel that all the barking and ugly behavior caused the other dog to go away.  If your dog does go over threshold and reacts to a dog he sees, do your best to get him turned around so you are the one that walks away.
Addressing a behavior problem like on-leash reactivity is usually a matter of combining management and behavior modification.  The right mixture will keep your dog (and those he encounters) safe during the training process, and allows the behavior modification to be as effective as possible.  There are good techniques available to counter reactivity, and Brody is getting the full experience.  Hopefully he'll continue to learn quickly, soaking up everything he needs to have him feel more comfortable around other dogs when he goes out for a walk.  His owners enjoy traveling in their RV with him, so it's important for everyone.

Are there things that your dog reacts to, either on leash or off?  Other dogs, new people or children?  The evil dog-hunting vacuum cleaner?

Ethan and Brody

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Meeting of the Minds

I had a wonderful meeting this week with Portland's own Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Chris Pachel of Animal Behavior Clinic.  My expectations were high - before leaving Florida, Dr. Lisa Radosta (also a veterinary behaviorist - believe it or not they are two of only about 60 in the country) told me if we were headed to Portland, Oregon that I had to get in touch with Dr. Pachel.  She said he was an incredible behaviorist and an equally positive personality.  I had dealt with him already through a client that we shared, and hadn't been disappointed.

It was a great meeting.  Dr. Pachel is very down-to-earth, which means that even though he has incredible education and experience, he is easy to relate to.  I appreciate his approach to behavior and medicine.  It will be hard to know until we interact more, but I feel like his methods are very similar to mine, which will make it easy to refer my clients when they need his help, as well as to work with referrals of his patients to help them with follow through and moving their dog's behavior in a positive direction.

It's fantastic to know that I have a resource in Dr. Pachel.  For those of you that don't know, his position is why I never refer to myself as a "behaviorist."  Trainers that do are using the word inappropriately, because unlike dog training, there is a medical degree that makes someone officially a "behaviorist."  What's the difference? 

Dog trainers can work on a variety of things, including socializing puppies, house training, obedience training (like teaching sit,down, stay, come, heel, etc.) and changing problem behaviors like jumping up, bolting through doors or barking at squirrels in the yard.  A dog trainer may also choose to handle some behavior cases, if they have the education and experience to do so.  Those may include mild cases of separation anxiety, house training problems in grown dogs, or a dog who is afraid of the vacuum cleaner. Some trainers handle aggression and some don't - if you are looking for help with aggression make sure you find someone who is qualified and who uses positive methods. 

A veterinary behaviorist isn't likely to be much help for acclimating your new puppy to playing well with other puppies, or for teaching your dog to sit for meeting visitors.  But a veterinary behaviorist may be the right resource for a dog that has extreme fears or compulsions, or for a dog that is so intense in guarding his toys that he has bitten family members in the process.  A veterinary behaviorist can rule out medical causes, can create a behavior modification plan that is appropriate for a dog with complex training needs, and can prescribe medication if that is something that will be helpful in the animal's recovery.

We are fortunate to have a veterinary behaviorist in the Northwest, and even luckier that it is someone as caring and personable as Dr. Chris Pachel!                                                                              

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Clicker 101 - Part One

Have you heard about clicker training, but don't know what it is?  How it got started?  Why they are used?  What all the fuss is about?  And, hey, are they worth it, or is the clicker just another gizmo you'd be forced to juggle, as if the dog, leash, treats and poop bags weren't enough?!

I'll start with some of the history of clicker training, and what it does, and then (in the interest of brevity, so this post stays short enough for you to read and me to write) I'll go into more detail in follow up posts.  Like how to use a clicker, and common concerns about clicker training.  I'll probably throw in a video at the end, so you can see clicker training in action and decide for yourself what you think of it (though I think trying it with your dog for a few weeks is the best way to give it a true trial).

So, where did clicker training begin? The concept originated around the time of WWII with Marian Kruse and Keller Breland, students of the famous B. F. Skinner.  They used clicker training to teach a wide animals including pigeons, cats and dolphins.  Its use in training marine mammals took off (instead of a click trainers use the high pitched whistle we now associate with Flipper and Shamu, but the concept is the same), but clicker training still hadn't really made it to dogs.

One behavior expert was using clicker training with dogs though, and in 1992 Karen Pryor put on a seminar in San Diego, California that would change the face of dog training forever.  Along with her book, Don't Shoot the Dog, Pryor began to spread awareness of clicker training and the fantastic results it could bring when teaching obedience commands or modifying behavior.

The basic principles of clicker training are quite simple.  The "click," that sound made by the clicker, becomes what is known as a conditioned reinforcer.  It is a sound that initially means nothing to a dog; it is quite literally just a click.  But, after repeated pairings with food rewards, the click begins to take on meaning.  It starts to mean "Yes! You got it right!"  It means food is coming, even if you can't see it yet.  And it means "All done!" that whatever behavior they have been working on is complete.

How does one sound come to mean so much to a dog?  That's where the "conditioned" part of conditioned reinforcer comes in.  Let's use dolphins as an example.  It's one of my favorites, as you know if you've learned clicker training with me.  Training a dolphin offers some unique challenges.  You can't put a choke collar on a dolphin and make it mind.  You can't flip it over and pin it to the ground, exerting your "dominance" over him, the way some famous "trainers" would. (Since we can't express sarcasms well in the written word, let me just insert that here. I do not advocate choke collars or dominating your dog, or any creature for that matter.  Sarcastic sneer noted.)

Dolphins also swim much better than we do, which makes it hard for us to be near them when they are performing tricks.  Training dogs is starting to sound pretty easy, right? Clicker training (or "marker training" - a more general term that can include other types of sounds like the whistle that marine mammal trainers are likely to use) helps with dolphin training in many ways.  First, by giving the dolphins a consistent, easy to recognize cue that means the dolphin has done something right, we improve communication and thus speed up training.  Marking the exact moment a dolphin performs also allows the trainer to reward for increments of behavior, not just the final product. 

Finally, the whistle acts as a bridge (lots of fancy terms this time!).  A bridge (in normal-person language) is a way to increase the amount of time between when the behavior is performed and when the reward is received, without ruining the animal's understanding of why they are being rewarded.  Think of a dolphin learning to jump up and touch a ball suspended 20 feet above the pool. (I have no idea about dolphin training, and it's been a while since I've seen a show, so forgive me if my example is totally inaccurate.)  It would be nearly impossible to get a fish to the dolphin at the exact moment that he touches the ball, since the dolphin is way out in the middle of the pool (and 20 feet in the air!) and the trainer is stuck on their little platform.  If the dolphin doesn't get his fish within a few seconds of performing the behavior, he won't connect the two.  Enter marker training (clicker training if you missed all the bouncing around with terminology)!  Because the dolphin has been conditioned to know that the whistle means a fish is coming, the trainer blows the whistle at the exact moment the dolphin touches the ball and, bingo!  Dolphin makes the connection and learns the new behavior.  And you and your friends pay an arm and a leg to see his show.

What does all this mean for you and your dog?  Clicker training isn't just a gimmick, but an effective method based on scientific learning principles.  Using a clicker allows you to be clear and consistent in your communication about when your dog has done something right, and also allows you to break a behavior into smaller parts as they are learning.  And once your dog is conditioned to the clicker, you can afford more time between the time the dog does a behavior and the time your get the reward to him.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

And the Winner Is...

My husband and I had a wonderful time tonight at the Pilgrim Lutheran School fundraising auction and dinner.  Bravo Dog Training raised some money for the school with a dog training basket - full of great toys, treats and more, plus a certificate for either a board and train program or private lessons.  I didn't see the final bid, but I know we raised about $400 for Ethan's school.  Thanks to everyone who bid!

Here's Ethan with me, ready to head out to the auction.  It was a country-western theme, hence the blue jeans.  Yes, I do wear pants other than blue jeans; it has been known to happen.  Once or twice.  Ethan played with the other kids in a babysitting room, so Mom and Dad got to enjoy the night like proper grown ups.  It was a fun event.

Earlier today I had an initial session with a wonderful couple from our church, Cedar Hills United Church of Christ.  They have a very enthusiastic 2-year-old Lab who will be a ton of fun to train.  The family has been through a couple other trainers that they weren't happy with, but after our session today they asked to schedule 6 additional sessions!  I think it will be a good match, and I'm happy that they have found a trainer that can work with them to mold their zealous (okay, cover your ears puppy, obnoxious) Labrador into a model citizen.  Oh, and I'm happy that trainer is me!  I do love the wild and crazy dogs.  It is so much fun to take all that energy and redirect it to positive, useful behaviors.

One problem that we got to work on right away was the dog's habit of darting out the front door and playing a joyous (for the dog, let me be clear. Owners, not-so-joyous) game of catch-me-if-you-can.  Let's be honest, even for an Olympic level sprinter (which no one in this family is, to my knowledge), catching a long-legged 90 lb lean-mean-Labrador-running-machine is hopeless for us bumbling 2 legged humans.  I wrote a piece not long ago on "un-training" a dog to come when called.  Their dog was a good example of this.  The solution?  Going back to square one and training the dog to come using my "hidden food" recall method, teaching "wait" at the front door (and when coming out of the crate, just for extra training opportunities), and a strict ban on any chances to get out the front door until he is fully trained.

Do you know a dog that doesn't come when called?  Even a dog that comes 90% of the time isn't trained well enough - that 10% can be anything from frustrating to fatal.  But it is a fixable problem!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sick as a Dog

What a way to turn over a new leaf.  From my death bed.  Okay, I'm probably being a bit dramatic there, but I do feel terrible today.  Yesterday, at a post-surgical doctor's appointment, they did the routine blood pressure, pulse and temperature, and, surprise to me, I had a fever.  I felt fine, but by the evening it was starting to become apparent.  I woke this morning with terrible fever-sweats and have fought a sour stomach all day.  I just hate feeling sick - there's always too much to do. Moms and entrepreneurs never get to take a day off.

Hopefully this will go as quick as it came on.  I have two lessons tomorrow, with an existing client and her aggressive Aussie/Chow/Brown-Dog-That-Hopped-the-Fence Mix, and with a new client and their very boisterous "I'm too cute to listen" Labrador.  The day is set to end with Ethan's school's big fundraising event. It's an auction and I have donated a "dog training" basket (including a 10-day board & train or 7 private lessons) which I hope will bring the school enough money to make it worth my while.  And to not hurt my pride.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Will Try To Be Better

I have been neglectful in my blogging.  As is normally the case, I've tried to do too much and ended up with nothing at all.  So, long, insightful articles pushed aside, I will try to do what a writer should do.  Write.  Just make it happen, no matter what.  There is plenty going on. 

I have a dog who is drinking so much (gallons) and peeing so much that he has been banished to an outdoor kennel during the day.  A posh, comfy kennel, but an outdoor kennel all the same.  I've never had an outdoor dog. 

I have a new board & train dog starting next week - a little Havanese that is aggressive towards other dogs when on leash.  It will be fun to work with him.  Hopefully I can improve his outlook and help make life easier for him and his loving owners.

I had a wonderful conversation today with Dr. Chris Pachel, the area veterinary behaviorist.  I like his style and look forward to meeting him next Tuesday. 

We had a full blown hail storm tonight, with an icy accumulation and enough lightning and thunder to send Timber into a panting, pacing tizzy.  Watch out Tim, that thunder might get you!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Dog Gone Easter

The Easter bunny was good to us this year. And, after all the fun inside, we took the dogs out to the front yard to find what the Easter bunny had left for them. All across the lawn were brightly colored plastic eggs filled with dog treats. Ethan couldn't resist the fun and helped the dogs find and open the eggs. Happy Easter!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Much is That Doggy in the Window: What to Know When Getting a Dog

Honestly, the biggest problem I see when training dogs (and their owners!) isn't jumping up, running away or housetraining.  By far, the biggest issue is people getting a dog that wasn't a good match for their family. The article Getting a Dog addresses the important qualities to consider before selecting your next dog.

Learn when the perfect time is to bring a new dog into your home, based on your living situation, the time of year and more. Look at the pros and cons of getting a puppy, young adult or senior dog, as well as which is a better match for you - purebred or mixed breed.

Once you've determined that the time is right and you've closely considered what type of dog fits your life, it's time to examine your options of where to get your new dog. Learn more about well-run animal shelters and rescue groups and how to identify and avoid rescue groups that don't act with the dog's best interest at heart. If you decide to purchase a dog from a breeder you'll have lots of research to do, but our Selecting a Good Breeder article will help you ask all the right questions.

Lastly, learn why it is so important NEVER to buy a puppy (or anything else) from a pet store or a backyard breeder.

Once you've read about how to select a dog that's a good match for you and your family, you might find you still need some help. If that's the case, please don't hesitate to ask!  Email me or call me at 503.686.5890. The most important decision you make about your new dog happens before you even bring him/her home!