Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Peeling the Onion - Creatively Solving Show Ring Issues

This past year I changed the direction and focus of my dog training business to work strictly with show dogs. I love helping people shape their dogs into successful show ring competitors.  I offer a Conformation in the Park class which is not unlike a lot of handling classes where we basically run dogs through the show ring paces, individual exams and group work like in the show ring. I also offer a Skill Building and Handling for the Show Ring class where we delve much deeper into training the basics, working on specific issues that students are having and peeling apart behaviors to creatively find solutions. Because my job is to help clients modify or build behavior in their dogs, I can't help but look at every training issue as a behavioral puzzle. Regardless of whether we are working on a serious behavior issue or teaching a show dog to trot on cue it is still behavior and it all works the same way.

When a client is having an issue with their show dog whether it is a gaiting issue or a stacking issue or an issue with the judge's exam I pull it apart using the behaviorist's most helpful tool - a functional behavior analysis. A functional behavioral analysis is a way of looking at the behavior to determine why the particular behavior is continuing to occur. This is sometimes called the ABCs of behavior. It works like this:

A = Antecedent - the antecedent is what happens just before a behavior happens, the behavior will not occur without the antecedent

B = Behavior - the target behavior we are looking at changing

C = Consequence - what happens just after a behavior

If you look at this way, from a behaviorist's standpoint you realize that the behavior is driven by the antecedent and the consequence.  These two things must be in place in order for the behavior to continue to occur. The great thing is that while the animal is control of the behavior, we can change the antecedent and the consequence which will change the outcome of the behavior.  Dogs, like all animals, human and non human do behaviors for an outcome. Most behavior that people complain about their dogs doing are happening because the behaviors have been reinforced, usually by the same people that complain about them.

Here is an example that I have dealt with many times:
A show dog is trained not to pull on the leash but to walk at the owner's side, the dog is reinforced for the behavior of walking and possibly punished for pulling. The owner shows the dog and is frustrated that the dog paces in the show ring. The dog is pacing because he has been taught to accommodate the speed and position of the owner. If they attempt to physically correct the dog they may end up confusing the dog because the dog is only doing what he was reinforced for.  He isn't really wrong, the owner just wasn't clear or effective in teaching the behaviors in context and putting them on cue and with strong stimulus control meaning that the dog does the behavior when asked. Is it fair to correct a dog for doing what has been the right choice in the past?  How is he supposed to know the difference if we don't teach it? If we did a functional behavior analysis, it would like this:

A = owner walks dog on leash

B = dog walks at owner's side

C = dogs gets a treat or to move forward on the leash

In looking at this example it is clear that the behavior has a reinforcement history. The dog is actually doing exactly what he is trained to do but the owner has now decided that they want something else. My next job is to determine how I am going to build the behavior of trotting on lead and reinforcing that so we get it on cue and the dog can either walk on leash when asked or gait on leash when asked. It is simple but not always easy to apply.

I am currently working with a dog who I have been challenged with correcting a behavior that we have actually trained and reinforced similar to the example above. Booker is a very confident and social young French Bulldog. He is being shown successfully by his owner Marcella and she has taught him how to do a very pretty and reliable free stack on cue. If she says "stack it up" he will stomp all four feet into place into a beautiful free stack. However, he will always do it at an angle and attempts to get him to straighten out result in him angling himself again. We used a stacking box and a platform with some of his stacking training and he remains on the box and straight. I am certain this happens because the free stack training and practicing has mostly been with him at her side as if she returned from a down and back with her right hand out for Booker to look at.

Booker always free stacks at an angle
The antecedent is Marcella cuing Booker to "stack it up" in front of her. Again, he is doing it correctly, exactly as he was taught but we have now decided we want to change it up. The first thing we are doing is dropping the verbal cue "stack it up" unless he is doing his pattern and coming up to the judge. He knows the behavior so now we just have to retrain it with him straight and give it a different cue. This is all, by the way, a result of really great training by his owner. 

We have dropped the cue and I also needed to change the "picture" for him. Part of the cue is Marcella saying "stack it up" but dogs are also very in tune to environmental cues. Environmental cues are other things that happen while the behavior happens or just behavior that give additional information to the dog. So, Marcella standing in front of him holding his show lead has become an environmental  cue for him much like you picking up the leash or putting on your hiking boots can cue the dog that you are going to go for a hike. In order to make the picture different for Booker I had Marcella sit in a chair.  We still got an angle so I then added a mat that was large enough for him to stand on square but didn't allow for him to be angled. We then shaped the behavior of coming to the mat right in front of her. 

The mat helps Booker to understand to stand straight rather than angled.

To shape the behavior I had Marcella sit in a chair with the mat right in front of her feet. She would toss a treat in order to get Booker to move off of the mat and reset himself and then when he comes in straight, she marks it with "yes" and then gives him another treat, then tosses another to reset it. The idea is to figure out a way to cause the behavior to happen repeatedly so that we can reinforce it and cause it to happen more.

Once Booker began to understand it we started to put it on a new verbal cue, so Marcella would say the new cue, "front" just before Booker comes in straight on the mat. We then removed the mat and began to cue the behavior with Marcella sitting and then finally with her standing. She practiced a bit at home and in two group classes for fairly short periods of time and are already having success. They will continue to work on it so that it is reliable enough for him to do on cue in the show ring.

Coming in straight with Marcella sitting

Booker is starting to get it and come in straight with Marcella sitting down.

Here is a breakdown of the training plan:
  • Stop using verbal cue "stack it up".
  • Shape the behavior of coming in straight in front.
  • Incorporating the mat to help Booker understand to be straight.
  • Changing the picture by having Marcella sit down so that it is easier for Booker to learn to come in straight.
  • Once we started to get him consistently coming in straight with Marcella sitting, I had her start adding a new verbal cue "front".
  • Once we had him coming in straight with the front cue, we did it with Marcella standing, but I had her position her feet a little bit apart like she did when sitting'
  • We ended the session with Booker coming in straight with her standing!
  • We then continue to give the verbal cue and reinforce for stacking straight in front of her.
  • Success!
I was inspired to write this post because so many times people want to simply make the dog's behavior stop rather than figuring out why it is happening and figuring out the best way for the dog to have success at understanding what we are trying to teach. If an animal is exhibiting a problem behavior or any behavior that the owner would like to change the best course of action is to decide what you would like the dog to do instead, in this case stand straight, and then train that behavior. This way the dog is taught to do what is desirable, understands it and can get it right and have success.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Big Dogs Don't Require a Heavier Hand

There is a common misconception that positive reinforcement training is appropriate only for some dogs, you know small dogs or soft dogs but that other dogs require the use of force. I hear people say that all dogs are different and that "no single method works for all dogs", but the fact is that the positive reinforcement quadrant of learning theory DOES work for all dogs, in fact it works for all animals. The fact is that the larger the animal is the more critical it is to create a cooperative working relationship where the animal actually wants to perform the requested behavior.

I coach people in conformation with all different breeds, of different sizes, with different temperaments and learning styles and I encourage them to use the same basic principle and core philosophy and that is to train primarily with positive reinforcement. It means to adhere to the commitment to "do no harm", not just harm to the animal but harm to the owner's relationship with that animal.  It is astonishing how many times a new client comes to me with a specific issue that they are having with their dog in the show ring whether it is pacing, sniffing the ground, pulling or moving on the stack that when I show them how to change the behavior they are shocked that we change that without corrections. People will actually ask, "you mean you don't use corrections?" That is correct, I don't use corrections, I identify what the dog is doing versus what I want and then I train what I want rather than trying to punish what I don't want.

I am showing an Irish Wolfhound for a friend and part of the reason I am doing that is that I want people to see that positive reinforcement works with all dogs. I know that people may say, "ah, but it's a sight hound, they are soft". People who are used to using traditional methods may find it hard to believe that positive reinforcement can work with large breeds because change is hard and when people are very set in their ways they don't want to accept that another way could be effective. At a recent dog show I stepped in and offered to help someone who I watched frighten and very roughly handle a young puppy, biting him, shoving him to the ground and poking him while he squirmed and cried. She rejected my offer to help and continued what she was doing to him. The attitude was that I have small dogs and don't know how to handle bigger dogs or stronger dogs, but that isn't the case. As I said before, the larger and more powerful the animal the more important cooperation is. It doesn't matter if I am working with a 5 pound dog or a 180 dog, my core philosophy remains the same and my commitment to train, manage and handle the dog with care and respect remains the intact.

Vicki with Rumplestiltskin, 11 month old Irish Wolfhound, trained and handled with positive reinforcement

As we learn more about dogs and how they learn it is important for trainers, handlers, breeders and anyone who works with dogs to stay on top of the current information. While it is true that punishment and force can "work" with some dogs, if there is a way to do it without punishment and force don't we owe it to the dogs to use the methods that work for them as well as us? I want to share a few stories of large dogs trained with positive reinforcement and who I think are doing a great job of showing people that positive reinforcement works in the show world. What better way to prove something works than to do it and have success as these owner/handlers have.

My good friend Anna Bettina is a highly skilled dog trainer and owner of Happy Healthy Pup out of Atlanta, Georgia. Anna is a big dog lover and has lived with many different types of mastiff. She currently has Briscoe, a Bullmastiff and Glaukos, a Neapolitan Mastiff, both of which are trained with positive reinforcement. Glaukos is a model citizen and is welcome in a lot of businesses around Atlanta.

Glaukos hangs out at a local restaurant

Glaukos is Anna's first show dog and I helped her with his conformation training since she had never had a show dog before. Being a professional trainer and a very competent positive reinforcement trainer she trained Glaukos using the same methods she uses to train other dogs. Glaukos would sometimes pace in the ring and Anna was told that he would never finish unless she put him on a choke chain and corrected him. Refusing to use a choke collar or corrections with Glaukos we came up with training plan for helping Glaukos learn to trot in the ring rather than pace. We taught him how to take off quickly so he would go into a trot instead and she would reinforce him when he trotted. He has always been shown on a leather loop lead rather than a choke. I am proud to say that Glaukos finished his championship this past weekend at the Neapolitan Mastiff National Specialty as well as picking up two Award of Merits along the way. A 180 pound dog trained completely with positive reinforcement and without corrections or aversives.

Anna and Glaukos in the ring at the national

The new champion

Olga Maderych is a vet student and a really talented dog trainer who has been training and competing with her family's Great Danes and Goldens for years. Now an adult Olga has her own Great Dane, Spark who she has trained with all positive reinforcement. Spark has his bench championship as well as rally, agility, obedience titles and more and Olga is now showing Spark's son Bright as well. Spark is reliably trained and beautifully presented showing that this team is a great representation of the power of positive reinforcement.

Olga and Spark in the ring

Their connection is clear

Spark does obedience as well

And agility!

In addition to their dog sport accomplishments Olga is also a professional photographer and her impressive training of Spark allows her to get photographs like this one:

An impressive stand stay

Olga and Spark are a great example of how much you can accomplish with positive reinforcement training. Despite what some believe it is not necessary to use harsh corrections or force to train large dogs.

Striking a pose

Sarah had Vizslas before but Remy is the first dog that she has shown in the conformation ring. Sarah was already in a positive puppy class and was referred to me for show ring training. The stars just aligned perfectly for this team as Sarah was a natural, Remy is a beautiful Vizsla and Sarah's husband Rob is completely supportive. As we were training Remy some people thought Sarah used too many treats, but no one could deny their success in the show ring. Before Remy was a year old they were winning not only points but Best of Breed wins and group placements out of the puppy classes. One thing that made my job very easy is that every time I would work with them and give them homework they would go home, practice and nail it. Sarah is now helping out with showing some of Remy's littermates and having success with them as well, all trained with positive reinforcement. Remy continues to have success as a young special having completed his Grand Championship and winning Best of Breeds on a regular basis.

Remy in the Group

A show stopping free stack

The proof is in the pudding

All three of these dogs have been trained without force and so many more of my client's dogs have as well. To those who say that you need to be heavy handed or tough on these large breeds, I'm here to tell you that isn't the case. Large dogs, small dogs and all other animals learn the same way. You can accomplish so much by taking the time to train the dog by setting him up to have success and then reinforcing those choices that you like. It not only makes for a reliably trained dog but also helps to strengthen the relationship between dog and owner.

Briscoe asks, "any questions?"

Friday, August 26, 2016

Holding a Stack with Distance and Duration by Andrea Stone

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.


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



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 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




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




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.