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.

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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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Positively Excellent Dog Training Part 2 – Reinforcement Part 1

Positively excellent dog training. We continued today, Saturday 27th February 2016, looking at reinforcement. Reinforcement is such a huge topic that we have split it into 2 workshops, the next one being in the 19th March. Even then, 4 hours of learning can be only an introduction to the topic, which, as positive reinforcment trainers, sits at the very heart of what we do.

After introductions, Clare presented a short input on reinforcement, mainly to get the students thinking about what reinforcement is. What is reinforcement and how does it differ from rewards and treats? Is there a difference? These are not semantics, if we don’t know the difference, how can we expect to apply it to our dogs?

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We divided the reinforcement into three categories; food reinforcers, toy/play reinforcers and life reinforcers.As modern dog trainers, we looked at positve reinforcement, rather than negative reinforcement.

Each of the categories was divided further to identify the pros and cons of each of them, when they could be used, and what behaviours they could be used to reinforce.

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Toy reinforcers pictured above. Divided into chase, retrieve and tug toys. Remember, it’s what the dog gets to do with the toy which is reinforcing rather than the toy itself!

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After discussion on the merits and disadvantages of each, the groups the devised training plans to test the value of various reinforcers.

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Building on the work done in the last workshop, ethical considerations were taken into account for both the handler and the dog, with welfare of the dog being at foremost in our minds. The attendees showed real thoughfulness in their design.


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Homework assignments were given with ongoing support between workshops. If you are interested in attending these, or are interested in hosting us to run these workshops in your area, please contact me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk.

Part 2 of the reinforcment workshop is on the 19th March 2016 in East Kilbride.

Positively excellent dog training – Workshop 1

January 30th 2016, Clare Russell and I held  the first in a series of workshops for trainers named “Positively Excellent Dog Training”. These are wokshops aimed at anyone who has an interest in learning about how dogs learn and how we can use that knowledge to change our dogs’ behaviour for the better. Yesterday, we had 12 attendees, ranging from pet dog owners, dog walkers, dog day care operators to dog trainers and enthusiasts.

The format of the afternoon, and of those to come, aims to be conversational. That is, the agenda is not strictly controlled but we have a set framework of those topics we want to cover. This way, the attendees can be involved in their own learning process and steer  (within reason of course) the way they want it to go, with Clare and I offering guidance. Presentation

 

Yesterday, we covered personal and professional ethics, how they are formed and how they influence what we will do and will not do in our own practices. The attendees were divided into three groups and had to critique a piece of training equipment, in this case the Pet Corrector compressed air can, being aware of whether the were evaluating, assessing or judging it’s application in training.

 

Group discussion

After a short break, there was the preparation for the practical part of the workshop which looked at setting the envrinment and the learners (both human and dog) up for success, taking into account safety, stress levels (of both) and levels of knowledge and ability.

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The next two workshops will be held on the 27th February and the 19th March and will look at the massive topic of reinforcement. If you are interested in attending contact me via my Facebook page (search Glasgow Dog Trainer and Behaviour Consultant) or email me at glasgowdogtrainer@hotmail.co.uk

Realistic expectations

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Last week (maybe the week before, the weeks merge during the winter) I wrote a post on how, as dog trainers who promote non aversive methods, we need to be at the top of our game so that clients see that they are getting results quickly. Today I wanted to write a little about the flip side of that argument and that dog trainers are not miracle workers nor do we have magic wands or pixie dust.

In my experience, most problem behaviours and training issues can be turned around very quickly, very often in the space of one session, and we can see the dog’s behaviour starting to improve. This is just the start of the process and it needs to be continued, consistently until your dog is reliably behaving the way you want them to. Take recall for example. I find recall training of dogs fairly easy for the bulk of the dogs I train. This not because I have some mystical ability with dogs, I try to find what the dog likes whether it is food or toys and use it a lot during training. When I say a lot, I mean all the time. This now becomes your daily routine with your dog when you are at the park. You play with your dog rather than letting him off lead to run around with other dogs. You see, it’s not that difficult, we just need to do it, changing our behaviour a little to get the results we want. This is the case with a huge proportion of the dogs I work with in the majority of problems from recall and loose lead walking to aggression and reactivity. We just need to do the right thing, do it consistently for a few days/weeks until the dog has enough of a reinforcement history of that behaviour.

Then we get to the more difficult cases. These are dogs whose unwanted behaviour is either so ingrained or that they are so stressed that we have huge difficulty in helping them. This is not to say that it can’t be done, but that it takes a long, long time. I had a very scared and stressed dog who came to see me a few years ago, I tried everything I could think of before finally recommending that the client go to the vet to see if there was some sort of pharmacological help which could be given. I spoke to another very experienced trainer who said “I hope they have a big garden” meaning as far as he could see from what I told him, the most humane solution was to exercise the dog away from the public.

I’ll give you some more examples from my experience to illustrate.

  1. A client comes to me with a dog aggressive terrier. We meet at the park, go through changes in lead handling, use of long lines, good use of distance, reinforcing good behaviour, preventing unwanted behaviour from occurring or interupting it when it does, safety of her dog and others. She ways to me “this is nothing like the way I walk my dogs though”. My reply to that was, “And how is that working for you?”. We need to change our own behaviour in order to change the dog’s behaviour, we can then gradually, in many cases, shape back to the type of walk we want, but this won’t happen overnight.
  2. A client comes to see me for recall with his collie. We have a great session, the dog is recalling well under distraction very quickly and we reinforce with loads of play. Two days later, I see him working with another trainer on recall. It’s totally cool that he does that, it’s his choice but we got a good result in our session, I think he was just looking for a magic technique which required him to do no work. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.
  3. A couple come to see me recently with a large dog who pulls all the time on the lead. I ask all the relevant questions during the initial phone call. The dog has been trained using an e-collar, a head collar and a choke chain. The problem isn’t that their dog pulls on the lead, it’s that they have zero relationship with their dog, and that their dog doesn’t actually want to spend time with them. Compounding the issue is the fact that the dog is so stimulated by the outside world that he has no attention span. He’s a long term project for the owners, which I explained but they didn’t come back to see me. Again, it’s their choice and right to do so.
  4. I see a post on a local FB dog training forum asking for help to find a trainer for their dog. The post states they have worked with several trainers in the past but to no avail. I had been to see her and knew a few of the other trainers who had seen her also. We all gave similar advice, she just didn’t follow it. We don’t have a pixie dust which can solve every problem. The client lives with the dog, we can only show you what to do.
  5. Lastly, I work with a very difficult dog, again, unable to concentrate on the owner outside. I give him advice about how to build some sort of connection with his dog. The week later I post on my FB page a blurb about a similar dog. This first client asks the second one if they have any advice on how to change the behaviour as he is having similar problems. I responded, yes, do what I suggested you do last week.

Living with difficult dogs is hard. Some days are better than others. When we have unrealistic expectations, it leads to frustration, anger and resentment. When we have these feelings, we are never going to be able to change our expectations and this is unfair on our dogs.

Since Watson came to live with us in April, she has made massive progress. But progress is not linear and I have to remind myself of this constantly. Her behaviour tomorrow may not be as good as it was today. So tomorrow I will do with her what she is capable of doing.

At Clicker Expo this year, Kathy Sdao said she uses this mantra

“This. Here, Now.”

I try to be mindful of this when I’m working and being with Watson. She is not today who she was yesterday, so I need to concentrate on today. It’s not always easy but each month see significant improvements and I delight in all the cool and amazing stuff she does on a daily basis. She is wonderfully friendly with visitors, is content and relaxed in the house, travels well in the car, learns loads of stuff very quickly and is great fun the majority of the time.

It’s been a massive leanring curve for us this year with her, but I’m glad she’s here.

Recall and respect

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One of the most important duties, if not the most important one, of living with a dog is keeping our dog safe. That means, keeping our dog safe from other people, keeping our dog safe from other dogs, and keeping other people and other dogs safe from our dog (which is ultimaltely keeping our dog safe if we extrapolate the consequences of not doing it).

Dog ownership is a privilege, not a right. Having your dog off lead in public is definitely a privilege but more and more I’m seeing people who view it as a right. Unless you spend time and effort consistently training a recall, it is very unlikely that it will happen on it’s own. No recall can be 100% as our dogs are living, breathing beings with their own minds and desires, not washing machines. This however is not an excuse. For me, I try to play the probablilty game. The question I ask is “Do I have a 95%+ chance my dog will come back to me right now?”.

The thing we need to remember is that “right now” changes and the “right now” of right now, is different from the “right now” of 30 seconds ago or last week. Things can change in a very short space of time and we owe it to our dogs and the other people sharing public spaces to have our dog under control.

Questions I ask myself when out with Watson

  1. If she appraoches another dog, can I recall her?
  2. If another dog approaches her, can I recall her?
  3. If she gets spooked by something (not an issue with her fortunately), can I recall her?
  4. If a dog gets in her face and acts aggressively, can I recall her?
  5. If she sees a running dog, squirrel or rabbit, or a cyclist or jogger can I recall her?
  6. Can she greet another dog civilly?
  7. Can she greet a person civilly?

This is not exhaustive but you get the idea. If the answer to these questions is no, then your dog does not have good enough behaviour off lead to be off lead. Your puppy, who trotted along next to you, whose recall you didn’t reinforce when she was doing it naturally, who you let have unlimited off lead play with other dogs in order to “socialise her” a few short weeks later is a teeneged monster with no reinforcement history of  recall who is now exploring the world and ignoring you. Being on lead and off lead or not the only options. Long lines, being off lead when safe and on lead when not are perfect alternatives.

A few stories from my own experience to share with you. I advocate the use of long lines. As you can see from my videos, Watson is always wearing the long line at the moment when I’m working in public parks. I ask clients to use the long line because it prevents the dog being reinforced for unwanted behaviour and makes it easier to reinforce wanted ones. So, some examples (details changed ot protect the innocent and the guilty)

  1. Client comes to me with a large, aggressive dog. We work successfully and put together a protocol for training. He comes back to me a week later, his dog had jumped on (although thankfully not injured) another dog. The dog was off lead in a public place and he had come off the trails and “thought it would be ok” as it was quiet. There was another dog in the car park and the client’s dog jumped on the other dog and pinned it. All avoidable if the dog had been on lead or line.
  2. I’m working with client A who has a large reactive dog. A previous client. client B, who uses the same park (we had worked the previous week doing recall with her dog) walks along past us. Myself, client A and her dog are at a very safe distance working with her dog. Client B’s dog sees me, and breaks away from client B and runs towards us. Client B laughs and shouts “it’s because he hears the clicker”, while we are trying to manage the situation and prevent B’s dog from being jumped on. No, dummy, it’s not because he hears the clicker, it’s because you’ve done no recall work over the last week as I see you every day, and your dog is off lead (this was internal dialogue as there is a time and place to address this)
  3. This one is a personal favourite. I’ll call the ower Big M. Big M has a 6 month old large breed working dog who would be a dream to train if he actually bothered. Big M uses his phone a lot when out with the dog and doesn’t pay attention to his dog. Big M’s dog, let’s call him Houston, is a really cool dog. He is super friendly but doesn’t always read what the other dog is telling him very well and this can lead to bother. I’ve seen more than one dog telling him off for being too pushy. Incident 1 – I’m working with a client and his Labrador for manners training. Big M comes along with Houston, and I swear, kicks the football directly towards us. Houston runs past the ball and then tries to engage our dog in play, which we shut down as our dog in on a long line. Big M shouts “Houston noshnosh” (possibly Houston’s cue for dinner time in the house) for at least 40 seconds in a valiant attempt to recall Houston. Houston ignores him. I eventually ask Big M to come and get his dog. He takes Houston by the collar, walks 10 feet way then lets him go. Yes, you guessed it, Houston comes running back in. This time I ask him to  take Houston and put him on the lead. We walk away to give him more space. Incident 2 – the very next week, I see a guy at the park who has a dog aggressive terrier. This fellow does an absolutely admiral job keeping out of every one’s way and trying to improve his dog’s behaviour. Houston comes running over and there is a big stramash with lunging, barking and shouting. This happened because Big M thinks he has an absolute right to have his dog off lead and not do anything to train Houston to come back and has little consideration for others using the park.

Now, I know I work in public and accept that these things can happen and also dealing with it is a necessary part of my job. But what if I was I regular joe out with his dog, doing his best to train and keep his dog under control and one of these incidents happens. Is that fair? All of the above examples could have been prevented if the the dogs had been either recall trained or on lead.

We are fortunate in Scotland to have off lead parks. I know many other places don’t. Please have respect for your dog and the others using public spaces and either recall train your dog appropriately for those circumstances or keep your dog on a lead.

Happy training.

Learning by association (classical conditioning) – a powerful tool in dog training.

Here I discuss classical conditioning – learning by association – in dog training. Dogs make associations constantly in their environment. By having a greater understanding of what we are doing and how this effects the associations our dog makes, we will have a more harmonious life with our dogs.