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.

WS1c

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

W09

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

a

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.

Dog training – the how is as important as the what.

Kuro (2)

I recently watched a video someone had posted on a training forum which I contribute to occassionally ( I don’t know why I do this, it’s bad for my blood pressure). The video shows the owner putting a sandwich on the floor in front of his dog and the dog doesn’t eat it. The dog is also wearing a prong collar. This looks like a cool trick/behaviour which he has trained his dog to do (or not to do). For me though, knowing how this man trains his dog, how he advises others on the forum (basically the prong collar is the first port of call in dog training and use it for near enough everything), the training is really not that impressive at all. The result might be good to view, but I’d have preferred if he had shown the process by which he achieved the result.

We can achieve results in a variety of ways but for me it’s as important, or maybe in some cases even more important, how we get the results with our animals than the results themselves. Yes, we all want quick, effective results with the minimum amount of effort. Sometimes that isn’t realistic and we have to compete against an e-collar trainer or an old school yank and crank trainer who might offer fast results. But at what cost? The dog owning public is horribly ill informed, through no fault of their own, as to what works best and quickest. As positive dog trainers, we need to be at the top of our game in order to effectively educate owners and train dogs. Many positive dog trainers have heard that our style of training takes longer than other methods. I don’t think I’m the most skilled trainer around, but I’ve found, and the science supports it, that positive reinforcement training, applied thoughtfully and with skill, has long lasting, quick results with no fallout behaviourally to the dog.

“The ends justifies the means” mentality can cause serious problems. If the ends are most important, is it ok for me to cheat in an exam in order to pass? Is it ok for our police and prosecuters to falsify evidence in order to secure convictions? In my previous job, there was an increasingly invasive attitude of pointing out the failings of others in order to secure promotions and career advancement. Is this ok as long as we get that promotion?

The same too in dog training. However, if we focus more on the means, do we forget about the results? I recently spoke to California based trainer Kelly Dunbar. She says there is an increasing philosophy within the positive dog training community that the means are the most important. I think this may lead to us excusing poor training or lack of knowledge. We need to be able to do both and have the skill and knowledge to do it quickly, effectively and impart that knowledge on the client in a manner they both understand and can apply. This is no mean feat.

Lastly, we need to take the outcome seriously as well. I was at a Kay Laurence seminar a few years ago. She said she had seen a previously dog reactive dog who had been clicker trained to stand still while being sniffed by other dogs. Kay wasn’t overly impressed by this to say the least. Even though the dog had not been trained using aversive training tools or methods, I’d argue that the result was hugely aversive to the dog. In this case even though the means were non aversive, the results were. By being more thoughtful in our training plan, a better option may have been to start listening to what the dog was trying to tell us in the first place through the aggressive behaviour and teach the dog better options to manage their own behaviour either by moving away or approaching calmly.

If we are to succeed in educating dogs and dog owners we must take all of this and more into account. We must keep learning and applying what we know thoughtfully and seek outtrainers and like minded people who can help us.

 

 

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.

 

How to recover from mistakes in dog training.

Mistakes will occur in dog training. If we take ownership of them and realise the mistake is ours and not the dog’s, training will be smoother. If the same mistake keeps reoccurring, there is something wrong with our training plan.

THE most important thing you can ever do with your puppy

Proper socialisation is the most important thing you can do with your puppy until he is 16 weeks old. Inadequate or poor socialisation is something your dog may never recover from. Here are a couple of videos discussion what to do and what not to do.

 

Central Asian Ovcharka – reactive to people

 

Some video footage of Crystal, the Central Asian Ovcharka. Crystal is reactive to people in the street, at varying distances. She will bark and very often lunge at pedestrians, joggers, cyclists, motor bikes and scooters, bin men and a host of other stimuli. She will rarely, if ever, take food when outside. Her normal tail carriage is high and arched due to her breeding (this is our baseline). As explained in the video, Lynn lives in the city centre and has no option other than having to take Crystal into this environment at least some of the time for walks. We are doing work also in a less stressful environment (local park with plenty space), but is it is essential for us to be able to do some work in the urban area as this is where Lynn lives. We just need to do everything we can to minimse problems and are making excellent progress with her. All the stimuli you see in the video, would previously caused her to lunge at these distances before we started working