Friday, August 26, 2016

Holding a Stack with Distance and Duration by Andrea Stone

Goal
Your dog stacks and holds position at a distance from you
What it teaches
Impulse control, focus. And a really fancy stack!

Before beginning this exercise, your dog should already self-stack on cue, visual or verbal.
Because we are adding two separate criterion – adding distance and duration – to our dog’s stack, each must be taught separately before they are combined. Dogs (and people) learn best when the goal of the lesson is clear.

Duration

So first let’s discuss duration. This refers to the amount of time you expect your dog to hold a free stack without moving. It must be built slowly, adding time as your dog demonstrates fluency at the current level for success.

There are two ways to build duration. One is though delaying your click or marker word. Right now your dog will stack on cue, but may only hold it for a moment or two. Using this method once your dog stacks, silently count “one-Mississippi”, then click reward. During this exercise your bait is to remain in your pocket – no luring!

Alternatively, you may use the “1-2-3 game” to build duration. This option is a great one that is very helpful for young or easily distracted dogs because it makes use of a “keep going” signal – you counting! In the beginning stage of this exercise you will cue your dog to free stack, and then count aloud quickly, “Fifi, Stand. One, two, three,” rewarding the dog on “three”. Again your reward is to remain in your pocket. (For the rest of this exercise we will presume you are using the 1-2-3 game. It’s our favorite!)

Review of Action

CUE YOUR DOG TO FREE STACK
FIFI STACKS
QUICKLY COUNT TO 3 ALOUD

REWARD ON “THREE”



During your session, if you have five successful repetitions in a row you are ready to progress. You will now count to “three” slightly more slowly, again rewarding on three. You may find you are able to progress rather quickly if you and your dog are really on a roll. YES!

Next time you train, or if you change locations or the distraction increases during your current session, you may have to go back to the beginning level. The point is to have your dog remain successful, slowly raising the bar as she demonstrates fluency. However each time you are likely to find that your dog progresses more quickly.

Do be aware of your own counting style as you will need to be able to keep track of what you’ve been doing. If you are detail oriented and/or have difficulty remembering how fast you were counting, using a metronome and noting your speed may help. (For you engineers in the crowd!) There are many free metronome apps available for smart phones.

You will really be rocking and rolling when you find yourself getting a bit silly,

“One….one and a half….one point six five…..Two….two and a quarter….two and seven twenty-fifths…”

Don’t try to jump ahead too quickly. It is worthwhile to build this skill slowly such that your dog has a good, solid free stack with duration. Moving a single foot is “breaking”, and means you need to get better at the previous level before moving on.

During the entirety of teaching duration  you are right at your dog’s side or right in front. Now we will discuss adding distance. The length of time you expect your dog to hold her free-stack goes back down to just one moment.

Distance

Distance is how far you are or can move from your dog and have her remain stacked. Using a platform may be helpful for some dogs during this exercise but is not necessary.  You will cue your dog to free-stack and then take a step away. Before your dog moves, click and lean or step back to offer her reward – this will help cement for your dog that moving is not needed. However if your dog moves before you reward but after you click, that’s fair – the click ends the behavior. This is where the platform may be of the most help, or for very wiggly dogs. It creates a slight deterrent of movement.

Review of Action

CUE YOUR DOG TO FREE STACK
TAKE A STEP BACK

CLICK

REWARD YOUR DOG QUICKLY WHERE SHE STANDS


After five consecutive repetitions you are ready to take an additional small step backward. As with adding duration, you will need to be aware of changes in context – location and/or distraction – and account for it. If one element has changed all others must remain the same. Be ready to go back to just one step away from your dog if needed.

When you begin to take two or more steps away from your dog you will need to become the Wiggle Police. Any indication that your dog is about to move – a twitch of the ear, loss of focused eye contact, a shift in weight – means it is time to click and reward before the dog does in fact move. If this happens more than once you have either progressed too quickly or something in the environment has changed. Remember our dogs are far more sensitive to changes in the environment than we are. If you can’t figure it out or rectify it, go back to your previous level of success, get one or two reps and call it a night. Everyone will be happier that way!

Putting It Together


When you have reached at least your interim goal for each separate element – Duration and Distance – you are ready to start combining them.  Ten seconds of duration and three normal sized steps back are good goals to consider but each handler must decide for themselves. Adjusting for your dog’s age, ability and excitement level are key.

When you begin to combine the two, however, you are going to go back to “easy” levels. That is, you will take one step back and drop duration down to a quick, “One, two, three”. You will then build your duration to about ten seconds (A fun and silly, “One, two, three.”) before taking another step back. You are then back at square one for duration. Get it? Each phase must be built clearly and separately.

Review of Action

CUE YOUR DOG TO FREE STACK
TAKE A STEP BACK

QUICKLY COUNT TO THREE

REWARD ON THREE WHERE SHE STANDS



As the trainer, you will have to use finesse to gauge your dog’s ability on the day and in the moment. When you start adding distraction – such as a real show venue or the outdoors – you are likely to have to take everything back to square one again. Do train each element in different locations and levels of distraction before you attempt to “put it together” in a dog show environment.

Oh, and by the way you CAN do a distance stack on the ramp or table. And guess what – it’s impressive!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dog Training Classes - Getting What You Pay For

As most of the people I know who compete with dogs, I enjoy attending dog training classes with my own dogs. I have attended classes from beginning classes and puppy classes to nosework, rally, circus dog class and so many more. The cost of a group class in my area ranges from about $125 to $260 for a six week class. Usually make up classes are not offered and if I miss a class due to my own schedule, I simply miss that class. There are no credits or refunds for missed classes. I don't mind paying what I do for classes because I am taking classes from colleagues who I know are talented, skilled and have a lot to offer me and my dogs. I understand why they charge what they do because I am a dog trainer myself.  I wanted to write this blog to help people understand how we determine what our classes will cost.

Over the past couple of months I have been making some changes to my business and class offerings. For years I have offered a variety of classes including beginning obedience classes, puppy classes and many different intermediate and advanced classes over the years. As I decided to switch my focus to mainly doing conformation classes, conformation workshops and private lessons for conformation clients I have had to make some changes to my conformation class structure, fees and locations. These changes have forced me to deal with some issues that I have seen over the years but been able to gloss over until now.

Traditionally, conformation classes have been drop in and very low cost. Conformation classes are very often taught by people who have been showing their own dogs but are not necessarily professional trainers with dog training or behavior credentials. If someone teaches a class as a side job or even as a hobby and not as their main source of income they are more likely to offer low cost classes. This can be fine if the class they are doing is simply run throughs meaning that there is no real instruction but more of a practice class where the instructor simply acts as a judge. However, if you are dealing with a dog who has behavior issues such as fear or dog reactivity it can be an issue because the person may not be qualified and trained to properly deal with such issues appropriately.

Currently, I am offering a 4 week conformation class in the park which is 45 minutes long and has been offered for $46, which is considered "pricey" by some. Compare that to the $165 people were paying for my 6 week beginning or puppy classes. So, on average people are paying $27 per obedience class, but only about $11.50 per conformation class. It makes it very hard to cut out my obedience classes which are clearly the bread and butter for my business, but I desperately want to work with show dogs and help show dogs clients. I adore teaching conformation classes, both run through and skill building, but it makes it hard from a business standpoint. Additionally, I recently had to give up my training facility. I am very lucky that one of my close friends has a training facility where I teach classes and she has allowed me to offer my classes there, but her building is about 40 to 60 minutes from my house depending on traffic as opposed to my building which was about 5 minutes from home. And of course renting the space isn't free, I have to pay that as well.

In the past year alone I have spent thousands of dollars on my continuing education. On my website I have a list of the different conferences, workshops, seminars and training programs I have attended. Most of these learning opportunities involve air fare, hotel, food and the registration fees for the conference. The one I just registered for next January cost $645 for the three day conference, three training labs to attend with my own dog and my three breakfasts and lunches. I will also have to pay for either air fare or gas, hotel and other travel expenses. It's a lot of money, but it is important because I owe it to my clients to always be looking for the most current information and learning opportunities from the many experts in my field who can help me get better. I also pay hundreds every year for dues for my memberships to various training and behavior organizations. And there is also insurance, marketing, registration system, equipment for classes etc. On the outside, it may seem like dog training classes are expensive, but when you look at what it costs to be a current, knowledgeable and well informed professional you can see why we charge what we do.

I hope that this helps people to understand how we dog trainers set our consulting and class fees.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Training Your Show Dog to Relax for Grooming

One of the things we have to get our show dogs used to is being groomed.  Of course, depending on the breed of dog grooming can be extremely labor intensive or very little work at all. Dogs that are heavily coated need to learn to accept being blow dried, brushed, combed, banded, clipped, nails trimmed, topknots done and so on. My goal is not only get a dog used to it, but I want the dog to really learn to relax and hopefully even enjoy it. 

I recently acquired my first Lowchen and she surely will not be my last. Thankfully, she came from a really proactive breeder, Alexia Rodriguez, who worked on getting the puppies used to all sorts of things including gentle handling, clipper noises and vibrations and various environments. Even though Cannoli had been exposed to it, she wasn't reliably trained to accept it and just lie there and I had to work on that. In this blog post I will go through some of the things I did to teach my now 7 month old puppy to relax and usually fall asleep for her grooming. All this was done using positive reinforcement and gentle methods.

What you will need
In addition to your grooming tools, you will need the following;
  • a towel, blanket, mat or bed to sit on the grooming table
  • a pillow for the dog's head
  • a bag of high value treats
  • a grooming table and arm
First, start out by making the grooming area comfortable and inviting. If your dog is unsure about being on the table or being up high, get her used to that before grooming her up there. Just put her on the table, give her treats and take her down. Stay close and support her. If she is worried you can place the grooming table into a corner so that two sides of the table are up against a wall which can help the dog feel more secure and safe. Place a towel, blanket or dog bed and a pillow up there. Some dogs don't want to lie down on a hard grooming table, but are more than happy to lie on their mat or pad. It doesn't mean you will need it forever, but it is a good idea to use it in the initial stages of training. Cannoli's pillow is fleece fabric rolled up and tied.

Make the table comfortable with a towel or bed and a pillow. 

Next, put the dog on the table and just work on getting her to relax up there. Rather than trying to just push or roll the dog over, teach her to lie down by using food to lure her down. 

Lure the dog down with their chin on the pillow.
Once down, give the treat and then periodically offer treats for staying down on the table. Also, pet and massage the dog on the table to help her relax. Delivering the treats in between the dogs front legs, or in front of the rear foot if they are rolled onto their hip will help to encourage them to stay down and to relax.

Here I delivered a treat in between her front legs to reinforce staying down.

If the dog is relatively comfortable with being on the table AND with being groomed, you can offer treats as you start to groom. Take your time and reinforce OFTEN for staying down.  Practice this until the dog can really relax, even fall asleep on the table. The idea is to teach the dog to love being up there to immediately begin to melt and relax as soon as they get up on the table for grooming.

Cannoli is an extremely active young puppy, but she can relax and sleep while I groom her.

If can be helpful to teach your dog to rest her chin in your hand. I use this for many things including the position for medical procedures like vaccines and exams. This is an extremely valuable tool as it allows you to position the dog's head without any resistance. 

Cannoli rests her chin on my hand while I comb her face and head.
The chin rest on hand transitions nicely to her pillow.

It can be helpful to have someone else available to help with offering treats in the beginning. I was able to just set a bag of treats beside me and offer them every so often. If you need the dog to be standing, consider using a soft food item, such as peanut butter or squeeze cheese on a grooming arm.

Cannoli can lick peanut butter off of the grooming arm while I work on her.

If your dog doesn't like the grooming itself, consider starting to work on the grooming in a very comfortable place like on your lap or on the couch, as she learns how to accept it. Keeps the sessions very short and give frequent breaks and again offer a lot of treats as she begins to accept it.

If you are working with a very sensitive dog or there is already fear or anxiety associated with grooming, you may need to adjust the tools you use and use non invasive, soft tools. Some dogs do not like a slicker brush but may be fine with a wooden pin brush. Experiment with tools and start with ones that are comfortable for the dog.

As the dog begins to understand the process, you can groom for longer periods of time and can offer less treats. In addition to treats, be sure to pet your dog calmly while grooming to build even more positive associations with the process.



Things to Keep in Mind
  • Practice daily with your dog so that she gets a lot of practice. 
  • Be generous with your treats and reinforce good behavior often. 
  • Try to groom gently and thoughtfully without rough handling and yanking on coat. It can be hard sometimes to avoid pulling on their skin, but it is important to work on this so that they can relax and not feel anxious that it will hurt. 
  • If you are working on a sensitive area try to be gentle and offer treats in between very short sessions. This is how I got Cannoli so agreeable when having to comb little knots out of her face.
Grooming can be a really positive and even bonding experience for your dog when you teach it and do it properly. I love brushing out my dogs and all of them will lie on their backs in my lap while I brush and comb them. If they tolerate it easily from the beginning, I reinforce it with food anyway in order to build an even stronger positive association. If they have any fears or reservations about it, I desensitize and counter condition them by doing short sessions that they can tolerate while pairing it with high value treats. 

I did the exact same things for training her for her clipping, nail trims, bathing and blow drying. I offered food and started out with the water turned on low and some peanut butter smeared on the inside wall of the bath tub. I didn't wash her head at first, just got it wet. Now, she actually falls asleep while being washed! 

Same with the blower, I don't force her to stand up all rigid, I let her roll around on the towel at first and then just lie down and relax while I brush and blow dry her. I pet her and talked to her and offered treats while drying her. 

I feel that a lot of times we don't think of something like grooming or gentle handling as things we need to train, but we do. If we want the dog to know what to expect and feel secure in being able to predict what is going to happen, we can make all these things easier and more enjoyable for them.


Picture perfect




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The importance of the collar you choose to use

I work with many show dogs of different breeds, ages and temperament types and have found that the type of collar you choose to use on your dog can greatly impact how much your dog likes or dislikes the ring.  The type of collar can also influence your dog's behavior in the ring which in turn affects his performance.  I always choose the collar that seems most comfortable for the dog.  I am not looking solely for control, but also for comfort.  My goal is to rely on my training, relationship and reinforcement history for my dog's performance, not to rely on equipment.  There are many different types of collars on the market for show dogs so you don't have to use what is "traditional" or what people tell you is the only type of collar to use on a particular breed.  All dogs are individuals and should be handled and treated as such.

The easiest way to change an animal's behavior is to change the antecedent.  The antecedent is simply what causes the behavior to happen.  In other words, if a dog barks at the front window and antecedent change would be closing the blinds or curtains or using a gate to keep the dog out of the room.  Changing the dog's collar is an antecedent change too.  With some dogs you can change their behavior simply by changing equipment.

I regularly work with a very sweet Pharaoh Hound.  She was doing very well in her training and then suddenly, didn't want to be hand stacked or have me examine her.  We went through anything that could be different and the only change was that her owner had changed her collar from a braided leather resco style loop collar to a braided leather martingale with a chain component.  I noticed that her change in behavior started about the same time she got her new collar.  I asked her owner to change collars and she immediately went back to being comfortable being stacked.  It was an easy fix and as simple as that.  She was simply not comfortable with that collar.  We don't know why for sure and likely never will.  It could be the sound, it could be that it pinched her skin or pulled a hair.  We don't know why because she can't tell us and we can't read her mind, but we can measure the change in behavior to determine that the collar caused her to not want to be examined or stacked.  This is not uncommon and this example is just one of many that I have dealt with.

Making sure that the collar you are using with the dog is comfortable for the dog is very important. Because anything happening, pleasant or unpleasant, while the dog is showing will become associated with the show and the show environment.  It should be more about simply using what is traditional or the norm and viewing and working with each animal as an individual and considering what works best for him or her.  There are many choices from martingales to loops or limited slips and a variety of sources that sell ready made and custom made show dog collars.  

So, before settling on what "everyone uses in x breed" or what you see other people doing consider what works for your individual dog.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Newbies Guide to the AKC Show Ring

I keep seeing new people wanting some resources for what to expect in the show ring.  I wanted to offer that here with some information that I hope will be helpful.  What I am sharing here is written in regard to showing dogs with the American Kennel Club.  While much is the same, there are some differences in the different venues, so please be sure to make yourself aware of those things when showing in another venue.

How It All Works (in brief)
Here is a very quick look at how the judging works.

  • Class males are shown first, class bitches are shown second, Champions or Specials are last
  • Staring with dogs, each class (6-9 pup, 9-12 pup, Bred-by, Open, etc) is judged and a 1st through 4th place is chosen.
  • All the 1st place winners from the classes go in for the Winners Class
  • The judge picks a Winner's Dog, this is the only dog that gets CH points at that show for that breed or variety.  The judge then chooses a Reserve Winner's Dog, this dog will get the points if for any reason the Winner's Dog isn't eligible (entered in wrong class for example). Note: If you got 2nd place in your class, stay close by because if the 1st place winner in your class goes Winner's, you will have to go back in for Reserve.
  • The same thing is done for bitches to select a Winner's Bitch and a Reserve Winner's Bitch.
  • After Winner's Bitch all the Champions or Specials go in along with Winner's Dog and Winner's Bitch for Best of Breed or Variety, Best Opposite Sex, Best of Winners and Select for Grand Championship points.

Ring Procedures
In general, it looks something like this...

  • As soon as you are settled in, go to your ring and pick up your armband.  Use one of the rubber bands to secure the armband onto your left arm.  If you have thin arms, you may need two!
  • Dogs are called into the ring in catalog order.
  • The ring steward will tell you where to go.
  • When you get there, stack your dog.
  • At this point, some judges will look at the dogs all stacked up and some will tell you not to bother stacking them (or getting on the ground if you kneel) and just take them around together.
  • Once the dogs have gone around together the first dog in line goes on the table for the exam and in general, the other dogs are free to relax.
  • At this point, many judges will not look at the other dogs in the class at all, and you truly can relax.  However, some will watch the dog go around and then look up the line at all the dogs in the class, if you have a judge that does that, do not allow the dog to showcase something that you don't want the judge looking at again and again.
  • When it is your turn, you will stack up your dog.  Usually, you wait until the dog before you has started his last go around to the end of the line.  Sometimes with table dogs you can put them on the table as soon as the other dog has started his pattern.
  • The judge will exam your dog.  I like to wait until the moment the judge is looking and bait the dog so his head and neck are just how I like it.  The judge will walk up and you want to make sure your lead, hands and body are not in any way in the way of the dog so the judge can see. Do not feed your dog right before the judge will examine the bite. I will sometimes use food to occupy the dog if needed after the judge is done examining his head and bite.  
  • The judge will then have you move the dog.  Usually this will be a down and back, a triangle or a diagonal.  When returning to the judge make sure that the judge is looking at you, that you are moving in a straight line and that you stop far enough away so that the judge can see your dog.  
  • The judge will then have you take your dog around to the end.
  • If there is more than one dog in the class, you will stack your dog once the last dog has been examined and sent to the lineup.  Be sure that you have your dog stacked and looking good as the judge passes.  
  • Some judges will walk down the line and back up to look at rears, some judges will back up and look at the group again, for some breeds you may need to move a few times as the judge walks around.  Some judges for some breeds may have you stack your dog facing the judge.  All things you should practice for and be ready for.
  • The judge will sometimes put the dogs in the order he or she is considering and then move the dogs again.
  • The judge will make the picks and then you go to the stand with the appropriate sign on it (1, 2, 3, 4).
  • If you have won the Open class, you stay in the ring and go to the front of the line for the Winners class.  If you have won another class you simply wait near the ring gate to be called back in for Winners.
  • In the Winners class the judge may move all the dogs again, may put another dog or two on the table, etc.  Be prepared for that.
  • If you win the Winners class, you need to stay close by to come back into the ring for the Breed or Variety judging.
Things to keep in mind
  • Get to the show grounds in plenty of time.  I like to arrive an hour before judging.
  • Watch the judge with other breeds if you can to get an idea of where you will be asked to stack, the patterns the judge is using, etc.
  • Pick up your armband as soon as you are set up and ready to go.
  • Watch the judge but do not disconnect from your dog.  
  • Talk to your dog, have fun and let your dog have fun.
  • Be courteous with bait and toys in the ring.
  • Be courteous about space and make sure to give the dog in front of you plenty of space.




Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Cattle Dog Named Stan

So, there's this cattle dog, an Australian Cattle Dog, you know, a blue heeler, the type of dog that many believe you have to be rough with, hard on, the boss of and heavy handed with?  Yeah, one of those.  Stan was adopted by a loving couple who just wanted a nice dog to do things with, to be active with, to take places.  Unfortunately, Stan turned out to be reactive with other dogs.  He would bark and lunge when he saw other dogs and the behavior was getting worse so they contacted a trainer.

Trainer A
The first trainer is a positive reinforcement trainer recommended by the rescue group where Stan was adopted.  The trainer apparently tried to use straight classical conditioning (feed in the presence of the trigger) to modify the issue and change Stan's feelings and reactions to other dogs.  Unfortunately, they did so without the use of systematic desensitization.

Classical conditioning is really just pairing something (other dogs) with something (food, for instance).  Best case scenario is that the dog's emotional response to the "thing", in this case other dog, changes from upset to happy because the other dog has been paired with food.  In my opinion, it is best to do this while also using desensitization.  Desensitization means that you keep the dog "under threshold" or exposed at a low enough intensity level that the dog is not reacting, can learn, eat and think.  This didn't happen with Stan, he is was far too close and while he would frantically eat, he was far from comfortable.  It is my opinion that there would have been far greater success if desensitization was also implemented and if the owner was taught a bit more about the fundamentals of the process and how it should work and how it changes behavior.  While we don't need to be too "science-y" with our clients, we do need to be sure not to dumb it down so that they don't even understand how or why something should work and why.

His owner did not see a significant if any change from this trainer, so contacted another trainer.

Trainer B
Stan was sent to a board and train trainer who uses aversives including shock collars and pinch collars to train dogs.  Stan was basically physically corrected for reacting to other dogs.  This didn't make him feel more relaxed, comfortable or safe.  For weeks he was jerked and shocked for reacting to other dogs before the trainer returned him to her with the information that "there is really something wrong with your dog" and that "I can't fix him".  Stan was as reactive as ever, probably even more so now.

Why would he get worse and why didn't this work?  When using punishment to change behavior a few things have to happen.  First, of course the timing has to be impeccable, however, even if it is, if you are using a tool that can create pain or fear for the dog, you start to lose control of what exactly the dog is associating it with.  You could be and many times are attempting to correct the dog for his reaction to the other dog, but instead are simply making his feelings about the other dog worse. So, how can he possibly stop reacting defensively when he has more and more reason to feel defensive? We need to feel safe to learn.

Best case scenario, for the owner, not the dog, in this case would have been that he linked the corrections with his behavior of barking or lunging and simply stopped doing it and learned how to cope with his fear or discomfort around other dogs.  This happens sometimes and it's why some people feel that this method is acceptable.  See?  It works!  Well, it works if you are only interested in making the behavior stop, it doesn't work if you are interested in making the dog comfortable with other dogs.  I have seen this stop some dogs from reacting to other dogs, but I have never seen it make dogs okay with other dogs being around and it certainly doesn't help with the dogs actual relationship with other dogs if he has any, which would be my goal.  I don't want him to just stop, I want him to feel okay AND stop.  The dog feeling okay is a critical piece for me.

Honestly, I have seen people correct dogs for YEARS for reacting to other dogs. YEARS.  And the behavior never changes and in many cases it gets worse.  Suppressing behavior in the moment is very different from changing the future of the behavior.  Punishment reduces the future frequency of the behavior, so if it is punishment it has to change the future of the behavior.  What is it if it doesn't change the behavior but the dog gets shocked or jerked whenever they see another dog? Physically correcting a dog for reacting to other dogs gives him so much more to worry about.  He is forced to be exposed to other dogs at an intensity level he is far too overwhelmed at,  if he reacts he is in trouble, he can't turn to his owner or handler for help because they are the one doling out the punishment.  Many times you can see the dog squirm and look stressed and uncomfortable but tries to hold it together because he is trying so desperately to avoid being corrected by his owner. Not a great life.

The owner was pretty horrified by this training and would not allow Stan to remain for more training and turned to another trainer who was recommended by a trainer that the owner highly trusted.

Trainer C
Trainer C accused the dog of enjoying reacting at other dogs.  This trainer said that Trainer B did it all wrong, but then proceeded to do the exact same thing as Trainer B with no improvement.  Not surprising since again, it is a very flawed method and will not work with all or even most dogs.

Many trainers who use these methods and simply continue to introduce bigger sticks...stringing him up on a choke chain doesn't work put a pinch collar on him, if a pinch doesn't work, put a shock collar on him, if that doesn't work, put both on him, if that doesn't work, put the shock collar on his abdomen.  None of which makes the dog okay with other dogs!

Finally, the owner just stopped and backed off.  She could no longer stomach watching what was being done to her dog in the name of training.  All she ever wanted to do was help him.  This journey with this amazing companion of hers has taught her a lot.  She eventually went on to learn more about behavior and training.  Stan is older now, she has worked with him using desensitization and counter conditioning and gotten him to the point where they do well together and he is much more comfortable with other dogs in the world.  Had she been exposed to this training plan earlier on things would probably be very different for Stan, but I don't think it could have made their relationship stronger.  Everything she has done with him was done FOR him. She didn't get the help that she paid for or deserved.  But, now she knows and when we know better we do better.

For what it's worth, when you say cattle dog a lot of people will claim to know the breed and what they need.  They talk about being firm, in control, the boss, a good leader and many recommend harsh training methods and treatment.  I have trained, lived with and fostered many cattle dogs and in my experience, for a dog that is bred to work cattle in a way and in a terrain that few dogs could do, they are incredibly sensitive.  As an owner, a cattle dog is not a dog that I want untrusting or suspicious of his human partner.  Be clear, train well, be fair, trust him when he knows better than you and you won't find a better partner.

Finally, it's important to know that just because someone is a great dog trainer or very skilled in training pet dogs or dogs for a certain sport does not in any way guarantee that they understand the ins and outs of behavior problems or how to solve them.

Thank you to Stan and his owner for letting me write about his story.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A quick word about pacing

Just a few thoughts about "pacing".  For those of you who don't know, pacing is when the dog's front and rear leg on the same side moves in the same direction rather than back and forth like a scissors. When a dog paces, it is usually because they are comfortable moving at that speed.  Sometimes it is due to their structure.  Some dogs are not built correctly and so the "normal" trotting gait for their breed is not comfortable for them, so instead they pace.  Sometimes, it's a habit, again, usually due to comfort.  Some dogs will pace as a way to preserve energy.  Occasionally, there is a structrual problem that is causing pain and so the dog is compensating for it.  Sometimes, and I see this often, dogs are trained to walk alongside their owners in "heel" position, or very close to the owners side. Many dogs are trained to do this and get in the habit of pacing to the point that if you then try to get them to trot they simply pace faster.  Some breeds are more likely to pace and some breeds are actually permitted to pace when gaiting in the show ring.

I work with a lot of dogs who have gotten into the habit of pacing and have successfully helped them all learn to trot correctly.  I have several exercises I use from cavaletti work to quick start strategies that help them to pop out quickly in a trot rather than lumber into a pace.  Never, ever do I use leash corrections to modify this movement.  It is not necessary, nor is it fair to punish a dog for moving comfortably.  We are asking them to perform, to look showy and flashy, to allow strangers to handle and touch them, to be physically manipulated and to calmly cope with being surrounded by large groups of unfamiliar dogs weekend after weekend.  It seems to me that we owe it to them to be understanding when they are simply trying to move their own bodies how they are comfortable doing so.  Pacing is not "misbehavior" and should not be treated as such.