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Learning how to learn, it’s important for humans too.

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I have a joint Honours Degree in Immunology and Microbiology, I graduated in 1996. In my honours year, I studied Bacteriology as part of my Microbiology degree and Molecular Genetics as part of my Immunology course. Dr Anderson taught us bacteriology and Dr Henry Brseski taught us molecular genetics. To give you a bit of the background, I really enjoyed the microbiology portion of my degree, not so much the immunology part and definitely did not like the biochemistry portion (sorry Henry)

Dr Anderson taught us my providing detailed noted which he very often dictated and I came away with 4 or 5 pages of notes after every lecture. He was engaging and entertaining and I did my Honours dissertation under him. Dr B was slightly more standoffish and I really didn’t like him up until I was in 4th year (senior). When Dr B took us for molecular genetics, he came in the first day and gave us a handout with 5 pages of small printed notes (5 single side pages). He told us everything we needed to know and understand was in those 5 pages. My intital thoughts were

“Are you having a laugh? 5 sides of notes?”  (I was much more restrained then than now).

Over the next 12 weeks, the class would sit down and tease apart each of the points on those 5 pages and discuss, study and understand them. I spent many hours on my own doing exactly the same thing with those 5 horribly frustrating pages, which I can still picture so very clearly. At the end of the term, I passed both courses and achieved similar marks.

Fast forward 20 years later. I still have a really basic understanding of bacteriology. I know there is a difference between gram positive and gram negative bacteria but I could not tell you for the life of me which bugs fall into which class. On the other hand, I can explain to my kids and to anyone willing to learn, how DNA works, how it replicates, how genes switch on etc.

How does this relate to training our dogs? The last year has been massive learning curve with Watson. Behaviour is lawful and she follows the laws like any other being on the planet but I had to go back to the drawing board to fully understand and tease apart and contemplate what was going on with her.

I am fortunate to have access fo several world class tutors who I can call on for help. Sometimes it takes me weeks or months of thought to even formulate the questions I want to ask. Everytime I go leave my tutors, I have more quesions than answers and the process begins again. As a result of this, my skill set in being able to train Watson well has increased dramatically. I see things I didn’t see before. I often have moments like in the movie “Unlimited” with Bradley Cooper when he takes the magic pill and his mind opens up. I have these magic pill moments more and more often. This is because I have leaned how to learn properly, or at least am well on my journey. Thess “aha!” moments happen very unexpectedly; when I’m driving, washing the dishes, making dinner etc.

The Positively Excellent Dog Trainers Workshops are designed to encourage this. This is how Clare Russell who runs them with me learned from Kay Laurence. This is how I learned under Clare, Kay and Dr Henry in 1996. It is very uncomfortable at first as we generally haven’t been taught that way before (unless you went to a Jesuit school), but I can guarantee you when you make the commitment to learning this way, you too will have your magic pill moments, very often when you are least expexcting it. If you are working with us, trust the process and trause that we will guide you.

Enjoy the process and the outcome will take care of itself.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

The Rucksack Walk

I am just back from the IMDT Conference. Some food for thought indeed, particularly (for me) with regard to what dogs naturally would choose to do if no pressure. So, the Rucksack Walk. No, it̵…

Source: The Rucksack Walk

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

The physical effects of stress on our dogs

Riley2

We know that stress affects us physically. When we are under acute stress, our faces look tired and tense, and we hold a lot of tension in our bodies. When we are under chronic stress, our health suffers. Our digestive and immune systems are compromised and our mental health suffers too.

Is it any different with our dogs? We know that some dogs who do not like travelling in the car will vomit or have loose stools when they are given the chance to go to the toilet. Dogs also can instantly start to cast hair during times of stress. This is the effect stress can have on our dogs.

The three account I am about to give are purely anecdotal but they give some examples of my own observations.

Marcy is a one year old Dobermann. I went to see her as she was having difficulty settling down in the house and mouthing and jumping to get attention. Her owners had engaged a “dog whisperer” who suggested removing all the good things from Marcy’s life, including petting and exclude her from the social circle of the family when she did unwanted behaviour. When I went to see Marcy and her family, her body was tense, her coat was full of dander and she panted and paced all the time. Marcy’s owners had been concentrating on what they wanted her not to do, rather than what they wanted her to do and as a result Marcy had no clue what was expected of her. I suggested structured play and petting times on which were started and finished, where both Marcy and the owners could initiate and say “not now”, and stuffed Kongs to keep her occupied when she was to settle. Every time she settled in the living room, her owners would either tell her she was a good girl, pet her or give her a treat. We also implemented some positive reinforcement training sessions as to engage her brain. One of the coolest things about clicker training is the change in body biochemistry which results. Every time the dog hear the click during training, dopamine is released which helps the dog feel better. Over time, the body chemistry is rebalanced and the dog is less stressed.

When I returned to see Marcy two weeks later, she was a physically different dog which the owners had also noted. Her coat was in great condition, she wasn’t casting hair or dander and her body was visibly more relaxed. Teaching her what was expected of her and using positive reinforcement training to do it worked wonders on this dog’s stress levels in a few short weeks.

The second dog I noticed this in recently was a 5 year old Poodle called Riley.  Riley is an extremely nervous wee dog who doesn’t like other dogs sniffing at his rear end. As a result, he holds a huge amount of tension in his hind quarters, like he’s constantly pulling his backside away to protect it. This then makes Riley’s posture constantly bent. He looks as if he is in a lot of physical pain. June, his owner, had already taken him to the vet who had given him the all clear physically. June was hugely motivated to help Riley and has done a truly excellent job learning everything she can about nervous dogs and learning theory to help him. We changed Riley from a flexi lead to a longer lead, which allowed both June and Riley more movement around other dogs, and taught Riley he had the choice to move towards other dogs or away from them at his own pace. We also did a few clicker training session a day with him for the same reasons stated above. A month later, Riley’s body had started to straighten out. His gait is better and again he looks physically more comfortable. We still have a way to go but he is getting better each week.

Lastly there is Brody the Staffy. I first met Brody and his folks in the park. His issues were that he didn’t like either dogs or people too close to him and would sometimes lunge and muzzle punch. He generally did a really good job controlling his own space by moving away. We did some reasonable work with him in the park but I suggested we do a session in the house with him. A week later, when I visited their house, I couldn’t believe the difference between Brody inside and out. I hadn’t thought he was that bad outside but inside he was a real clown, a super relaxed, friendly, bouncy Staffy and looked truly happy. More clicker training to help with his biochemistry as well as a few other things we put in place.

The above cases are just a few I’ve been aware of. Read up on the physical effects of stress on dogs. Look out for them in your own dog. These can very often be resolved by teaching your dog what is expected of him or her and using modern, non-aversive methods to do so.

Happy training.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Living with a dog in pain

Guest blog from Lindsay Docherty. Lindsay first came to me as a client a few years ago with Millie. Since then she has been studying both with the IMDT, and with Clare Russell and myself. She has been doing some work for me over the last few months.

 

Living with a dog in pain.


Lindsay

Living with a dog with a chronic pain condition can be difficult. There are two types of dogs, those who will suffer through the pain without any change in behaviour and those who suddenly feel under threat from their world.. The change in behaviour can range from a slight reluctance to perform tasks to the drastic who’s behaviour can change completely.

We currently have a dog who falls under the last category.

Millie is our 6 year old rescue dog. At the young age of 1 year old she had a bad fall and suffered internal injuries similar to those of a high speed impact in a car. Collapsed lung, bruised heart and a torn liver not to mention a huge amount of muscle damage.

Our happy friendly pup was now on a long journey of pain management and behaviour change. The changes didn’t happen over night. As her world suddenly became filled with danger and potential hurt to her she modified her behaviour to try and control it. Previously she was every dogs friend and used to love nothing more than a full on sparring session. This was now her idea of a nightmare. Her “friend” dogs were suddenly hurting her. In her mind it wasn’t that she was experiencing discomfort and the other dogs happened to be there it was the dogs themselves that were hurting her.

She’s now really sensitive to changes in her environment. A break in her routine unsettles her and can last for days.

People approaching her in the street spooks her. Visitors to the house is really difficult as she doesn’t want to be touched and that’s what most people want to do with a dog.

When travelling in the car she won’t lie down if she’s having bad pain day.

After a year and a half on and off medication and us making pretty much every training mistake you can during that time the pain had eased off enough to begin behaviour modification training.

Us learning the right approach to take and how to make her feel safe were the first steps.

She’s predictably unpredictable so if we work with the thinking that she’s going to react to everything we can set up the environment to help her make the right choice even in the toughest of situations.

 

Dogs 

As a puppy Millie was Mrs sociable though still a bit nervous around dogs that were quite full on.

After the fall the pain made her completely change in these situations and rather than removing herself she would lunge and bark and tried to get on top of the dogs that she was afraid of. In fight or flight terms she was definitely using the fight method to get the dogs to go away. Luckily she never progressed any further than a lunge and a bark.

Our initial goal was teaching her to remove herself from situations around other dogs that she previously would have reacted to and helping her when she couldn’t do it on her own.

Millie likes to control her own environment and the movement of dogs within it. We haven’t stopped her from doing this but instead heavily reinforced lower intensity behaviours. If she doesn’t want a young bouncy dog to jump on her that’s fair enough so strong eye contact with the dog or a low grumble are far better than a full on lunge, bark and pinning the dog to the ground.

We have to come up with a compromise with her where she can keep herself feeling in control and more importantly not be hurt but also that the other dogs we meet are kept safe.

We spent a long time teaching her avoidance before we let her start meeting other dogs. Only through persistence with the avoidance training and setting this up as the primary behaviour to perform around dogs were we sure that if she felt unsafe she would disengage and come to us for reinforcement for doing so rather than feeling she had to deal with the situation on her own.

If she isn’t happy with a dog’s presence and the dog doesn’t leave we ask her to come with us and we will take her away to a distance she feels safe whilst heavily reinforcing the moving away.

She’s now at the stage where she is able to make some pretty amazing choices in previously highly reactive situations. This can however change depending on the intensity of her pain from day to day.

If she’s having a bad day we take a few steps back and ask her what’s the best behaviour she can give us that day and work with that. Doing so she learns that we can ask her how she’s feeling that day and we won’t put pressure on her to give more than she can.

Something as simple as lying down in the front of car is too much for her some days. If we ask her to lie down and she doesn’t after a couple of requests we don’t get mad. She isn’t disobeying us she just simply can’t do it at that time.

As well as being on the initial stage of my dog trainer journey I am also a part time dog walker. Knowing Millie and how she feels about strange dogs I was able to introduce her to the new dogs whilst keeping her feeling safe around them and I’m happy to say that she now has a bunch of great K9 friends that she can run, play and wrestle with when we are out on our walks.

The first time she initiated play with one of the dogs I was I was in floods of tears whilst trying to video it! A real turning point for us as it had been 3 years since she had initiated play with a dog other than the other dog in our house Leo.

Living with a dog in pain isn’t easy. It’s a full time job especially if they are reactive. We are very lucky in that our good days are so good they make up for all the bad times. We love our girl, and by understanding her body language and what she needs from us to be successful, help to build the dog and owner bond every day.

 
 

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Depression – something personal

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I’ve thought long and hard about writing this blog as it’s been a personal struggle which I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share. Then I looked at the stats. Depression kills. It kills far more men than it does women and it kills more men in my age group than in others and is avoidable in many cases. I am in a privileged position through my work to reach a few thousand people so for me I need to try to help anyway I can. So here goes.

I have probably suffered from depression for several years and looking back have had several episodes over my adult life. Up until the last year or so, I’ve been able to bring myself out of most of them most of the time, with the support of loved ones and exercise. This last year has been different.

Andrew Solomon, who is a psychiatric expert on depression likens the mind to an iron structure. When we get deressed, the rust sets in. It eats away constantly at the structure and then sometimes parts of the structure collapse. These are the acute episodes. During these episodes everything is difficult, no, it’s not, everything is extremely difficult and some things are impossible. For me as well, I think it’s like when you have a bad cold. You know thet there are times in you life when you’ve not had a cold but you can’t remember what it feels like. That’s depression too.

I’ll not go into the full details of why I became ill but this is what some of what I experienced and if you are suffering from it you are not alone. Some days I could not get out of bed. I still have days like that but work forces me to get up as does needing to get Watson out and take care of her needs. At the weekends my brain and my body need time to heal so there are times when I don’t get out of bed until 1pm. At first I would get annoyed with myself that I had spent so much time in bed and not been more productive and this would make me feel worse. So I started to give myself a break about it. A few weeks ago I came in from work and went to bed at 5.30pm and slept til 7.30am the next day. My body was telling me something and I listened. I need to rest. A lot. So I do.

Up until last year, I was working full time and doing my dog training on the side. My physical fitness then dropped off due to constraints on my time and I few strains and niggles would creep in. I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as my hobby and it has been an absolute tonic in my life for the last 11 years. My injuries meant I couldn’t get off the couch when I came home after class and getting dressed the next morning was a huge physical struggle. I could harldy get out of bed or put on my clothes. Tying my shoe laces was very painful. So I stopped going.

I felt bad. BJJ, which made me feel better was now no longer available to me so I felt worse. It spiralled down. I needed to do something about it as I am not depression. It is only a part of me and something I am trying to make a temporary part of me.

So, I started yoga and saw and osteopath to help make my back better. I tried to do one thing very day which I didn’t want to do, one small thing which might be as simple as shaving (no, this wasn’t the reaons for growing the beard; my neckline and cheeks still needed attention). If I became overwhemed when out I would try to centre myself in the moment by concentrating on 5 things I could see, 4 things I could hear, 3 things I could feel, 2 things I could smell or taste. This works well. Depression is about loss and anxiety is about uncertainty of what will happen next. One is in the past, the other the future so mindfulness brings you into the present. Sometimes I still get overwhelmed and need to go home. I feel ok about it as these episodes are lessening but they are still there. Ride the wave, it passes.

I previously worked in an extremely male dominated, macho bullshit environment. I’ve grown up in the West of Scotland where men needs to be men. We don’t talk about our feelings. So talk. Especially the guys, talk to someone, please, if you feel like this. It helps. A lot. If you think you are being unfair to your wife or girlfriend by burdening them with it, talk to someone else. Talk to the dog, call a helpline but for fuck sake please talk about it. It might help but it most often doesn’t make it worse. You need to get it out in some productive way.

Find the tiny little things which give you pleasure. Anything you can, you need to redress the balance. Engage as much as you can. Our industry can be very isolating so we need friends and a support network. If we practice positive reinforcement with out animals we need to practice it with each other. Stand up when you see others being bullied or harassed as you don’t know how it is effecting the recipient. A couple of months ago I defended a dominance based, balanced trainer who I recognised as being emotionally vulnerable against an immature campaign of online harassement from a so-called positive dog trainer. We need to do this. We need to try to practice it in all aspects of our lives.

Find something you are good at and can be successful at. Practice it. Everytime we are successful at something we start to redress the brain chemisty. Help your body and your brain out, you have the power to do something about it.

GO AND SEE YOUR DOCTOR!

I know this has been a bit disjointed but we are not defined by our depression. It is not who we are it is only part of us. There is still such a massive taboo about mental health issues in our culture that we don’t talk about it. This needs to change. Depression kills us if we don’t. Ask for help if you need it.

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://breathingspace.scot/

Love and peace.

John

 

Positively Excellent Dog Training Workshop 5

Workshop 5 of 6 today. When we started Positively Excellent Dog Training a few months ago, Clare and I envisioned bringing quality, up to date dog training to both trainers and owners in a way which was easy to access and understand. It has been a massicvve success and is just the start of things to come.

Today we looked at behaviours, skills and outcomes. Behaviours can be described as a specific thing the learner does, such as moving a cetain muscle or joint. Skills are where the dog generalises, so “walk beside me” can mean in a varietyof situations for example. A skill humans would have in this example would be having the skill to open most doors of similar design once the skill of door opening is learned. Some doors open by pulling, others by pushing (depending where you are in relation to it). Once the skill of door opening is learned, we can then apply it to many situations. The outcome for us would be the open door, the outcome in the dog example would be the dog walking with you on a loose lead.

Students had to teach me how to open a door when I was at the other side of the room. They were asked to break down each behaviour into very small steps. Each time they asked me to do something I wasn’t in a position to do, I told them I couldn’t do it and then they had to break it down further. This extended to putting my weight on one foot rather than the other, moving a specific distance forward etc. All these things teach us to be very careful in what we are describing and reinforcing, if the learned jumps ahead of us then we can go with it. If they get stuck then we need to break it down further into something they can do.

5b#

5d

We then looked a little more closely at certain drivers for reinforcement. Can we mimic the hunt for a dog and then put this on cue so the dog gets to hunt but only when we ask for it? Can we mimic a sheep’s movment with a ball so that a collie can herd the ball, give him an outlet for that daily and put it on cue so we get less herding of people and traffic? The answer is yes, we can.

Next workshop is the 4th June in East Kilbride.

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c5

 

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Captain America and telling our dogs what to do.

Captain-America-Civil-War-Splashpage-TeamCap-Photo

 

I went to see Captain America: Civil War at the weekend at our local 3D IMAX (It was very entertaining, the usual great Marvel stuff). At the beginning of the film, there was an announcement

“PUT ON YOUR 3D GLASSESS NOW”

My very first reaction to this was “don’t tell me what to do”. Now, I get that “Please put on your 3D glasses to fully enjoy the IMAX 3D experience” is unecessarily wordy, however, I really do not like being told what to do. In my previous job, I had a supervisor who constantly told everyone what to do. He never asked. He was a truly horrible bully of a man. Some of my colleagues who could be pushed around were, they did their jobs and did as they were told but none of them liked him. Those of us who didn’t like being told what to do would do it but very often we would push back, in fact we pushed back at every available opportunity. We stuck it to him whenever we could. The more we pushed back, the more he told us what to do. He then left, and was replaced by a man whom I absolutely adored. Jimbo would ask you to do tasks, never tell you and would do so with the full knowledge that you would do it. He never asked you to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. The guys who could be pushed around relaxed and worked harder, and those of us who were slightly more hard headed worked even harder still. Productivity and morale soared. He was a true leader who brought out the best in his people.

What does this have to do with dog training? Some of our dogs can be told what to do. We can push them around, shout at them, correct them and basically bully them in to compliance. Then there are the dogs who will push back. The problem for these dogs is that when they push back, they almost always lose. We shout at them and correct them, and they growl. We give them a harder time and they snap at us. We push more. They then bite “out of the blue”. Then it’s off to the shelter, vet to be put to sleep or we sell them on gumtree/Craiglist. The solution for all these dogs, whether the soft ones or the hard ones is to explain the rules in a way they understand, set up the environment so they can easily do the things we want them to to and so it’s difficult for them to the wrong thing and motivate them to do what we want them to do. If it works for humans, it can and does work for dogs.

If some of us don’t like being told what to do, is it not reasonable to conclude some of our dogs may feel the same way?

 

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