Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sit, Stay, Go - 3 Things All Dogs Should Know

As winter continues to linger in my neck of the woods, with day after day of cold, snow, wind, rock salt and the need to layer layer layer, I am heartened by the obvious lengthening of days. It is a sure sign that spring is really coming.

As I am working my own Six Pillar program with my 3 dogs, I note again for anyone who cares to listen, that training in winter is actually EASIER than other seasons, especially if you live in a 4 season climate. It may be a more daunting project to take the dog out and about, because of those aforementioned wintry elements, but once you're dressed, there are many reasons WHY it's easier.

Here's a short list:

1. Fewer people/dogs/other are out because it's cold, ergo fewer distractions.
2. The wild critters -- squirrels, birds, chipmunks, etc., are also shivering somewhere else and are fewer and further between, hence reducing distractions.
3. The leaves are all gone, the branches bare, and you can see more about, thus maintaining greater proactivity in awareness of environmental distractions.
4. Your Own Reason.


1. As with #3 above, you can see further, thus allowing your dog greater freedom in appropriate locales to increase the reliability of the dog off leash -- as the dog goes further away, you can see him!
2. Your Own Reason


1. Well, you probably aren't going to be out as long as I might, so the dog will learn to have a greater practice of more frequent shorter walks, or one very nice long chilly one that makes the nap by the heater or fireplace that much sweeter.
2. Your Own Reason

To that end, I am back to producing new videos to illustrate examples of trained behavior in wintry times. My latest opus, my first attempt with the new iMovie version (bear with me, my learning curve in technology pales in comparison to non techy things), is called Sit, Stay, Go.

Watch it, and if you care to, comment or rate. The feedback I get can help motivate me back into the darkness of the editing room.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Chuck

There's a lot in the news about today being the 200th birthday of 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and that is all good and well and Happy Birthday to you to, Abe. But what a lot of people don't know is that on that same day in 1809, across the pond from Lincoln's birthplace of Hodgenville, Kentucky, over in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, Charles Darwin was also born. The stars must really have been aligned that day for two such amazing men to have been born, their passions and life work still resonating two centuries later.

Darwin's path led him to become the most highly respected naturalist of the 19th century. He was a devoted family man (he and his wife Emma had 10 children, although not all of them lived to adulthood, common in those times), and, contrary to other Victorian era country gentlemen, spent inordinate amounts of time shaping his children's thirst for knowledge.

Outside of his rich and intensely involved family life, Darwin spent a lifetime exploring the natural world and became a different kind of father, that of evolutionary biology.

Charles Darwin also, not surprisingly, loved dogs.
"The first sparks of interest in natural history were developed very early in his childhood. Darwin relates how his mother, Susannah, taught him how to change the color of flowers by giving them water mixed with food coloring....Darwin also had an extreme fondness of dogs - easily winning their affection, and took great pleasure in fishing along the River Severn that flowed along the back of his parents' house."

Dogs have one of the widest variations in size of any species and it's due to the influence of our species, Homo Sapiens. To work with dogs, understand dogs better, relate to your own dog or dogs on greater and greater levels of depth, there is value to understanding the science, even just a little bit. As science probes deeper into DNA, and we now can test our own dogs to learn just what breeds are in there, the nature part of the nature/nurture equation. That gene pool may be effecting how our dog behaves, and we may not like it, but it's hardwired. You can train against the grain, but you have to know what the grain is!

For me, trying to take down a notch the "go to the moon" escalating of my JRT, Trip, in certain situations has caused me to regroup, refocus, and retrain. It's going well. I am aware of his triggers and it's always important to address at the very beginning. It's identifying what "the beginning" is that matters. It's usually several dozen behaviors BEFORE we usually say a trigger occurs. If the trigger incites an over the top, what I call The Highway to Hell reaction, I stop, wait, and proceed when there is evidence of calm. Now calm in a Jack Russell Terrier who is excited and calm in, say, an excited but overall mellow English Springer Spaniel, are two different animals, and that's exactly why I give homage to the terrier-ness of Trip and work at his own ability, not that of a mellower breed type. I carry it into every trigger situation, and I have to say, he's definitely improving, and it's enough to compel me to commit to the consistency, time, patience that is required. After all, I let some of it continue for his whole life, so I am taking back responsibility as I explore The Six Pillars for myself.

Hopefully, as you continue on your quest to shape your own beast(s) into the dog of your dreams, you'll weave your scientific knowledge into your hands on relationship with your dog, whatever his or her function for you in your life at this time.

Oh, and join me in wishing Mr. Darwin a happy 200th!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Recess IS Good. Duh!

It often is the case that "bad" behavior is punished. Example:
A dog gets angrily put in a crate for getting into the trash (I say shame on you for leaving the trash accessible and NEVER use a crate to punish, only manage).

The 4th grade kid who acts out in class gets punished by losing recess privileges. Instead he gets to sit somewhere to think about why he lost recess, often near the Principle's Office.

In both the examples above, these things actually INCREASE the "bad" behavior. A recent study published last week in the Journal PEDIATRICS indicates that children who received even 15 minutes of recess scored better on behavioral ratings scales than the children who did not. Duh.

Recess is the time to work out one's ya ya's - puppy, dog, kid or adult. Time to get a break in-between bouts of focus and activity and have fun playing. Focused learning requires a lot of internalization of self control and in children AND dogs it takes a very long time to acquire that skill. Why don't people understand that?

The acting out of the child or puppy isn't what's making them bad, it's a symptom of a much deeper problem. What's making it hard for the trouble maker is the behavior that's "bad" isn't acceptable in the environment (s)he's in (trust me, I empathize with teachers who are challenged to wrangle a large group of students and one individual can really sabotage an otherwise potentially successful class. This is why I now screen group class before giving permission to register because I've had to deal with that very issue. School teachers don't get that privilege much!).

To my mind it speaks towards something broken or missing on one or more of The Six Pillars. The purpose of education and training is to put it all together. Take into account The Three D's and SMT.

Last night was the 1/2 way point in my current dog group class (Night 3 of 6). During play time, or recess, handlers are encouraged when and how to recall their dogs. The reward is permission to return to play. It works on several levels including the introduction of a "go" cue and always helps create an awareness in owners of how connected their dogs are to them when not literally connected by a leash. Actions speak louder than words. I couldn't imagine working dogs in a high stress environment like class (and I'm not saying that stress is bad, it's just stress -- after all these are demanding circumstances in group class!) without a play period.

I like to point out that often when owners are coming in with their dogs, a cacophony of sounds emerge, not to mention lunging and posturing. Despite my repeated efforts to quell dog owners' desire to FORCE their dog (i.e., yank the leash instead of taking a proactive approach like happily calling the dog to you and making that BETTER than lunging and barking), people are people. They get defensive. They act out of instinct. They don't want people to think they have a "bad" dog. But when the dogs are off leash and playing, it's quiet, the dogs have fun, and any squabbles are handled by the dogs and usually last less than 5 seconds. I share observations about what normal dog play actually looks like. Each encounter the growing dogs have is one step further in learning appropriate doggie play and doggie socialization skills. If a dog is too exuberant, it might get a time out, but it's less than one minute and the dog is given permission to go play again. If it needs another time out, the pattern is repeated, but that is more the exception than the norm in my group class experience.

So go out and give yourself a little recess. And if you're looking for a really good dog training class for your developing young dog, make sure it includes off leash play time. There is no substitution.

Friday, February 06, 2009

More Fangshway

Last month I introduced the concept of Fang Shway as:

(Fang)The part used to bite (think both literally & metaphorically)
(Shway)A Sure Way when dealing with dogs
Deeper Understanding Towards Developing The Dog(s) of Your Dreams.

It all started as I contemplated how to take the epiphany of putting together knowledge, acquired from a lifetime of learning and experience, and figuring out how best to present it in a palatable, workable, logical and visual form that could stand alone as a guide towards you how to shape your dog into the dog you want, not a litany of "I don't want's", as well as a reality of what's involved to achieve that goal. An empowerment to help people do much on their own, but also recognize when the need exists to call in professional help.

Thus was born the book I'm writing, THE SIX PILLARS OF DOG TRAINING WISDOM:A Proactive Approach to a Deeper Understanding Towards Developing the Dog of Your Dreams. Using mnemonics, visual aids, a detailed glossary, pictures, case examples, metaphors, resources and more -- videos will certainly be making it online -- the book is hoped to be a resource for trainers at any level.

Much of the process of writing requires a very different discipline than doing dog training sessions. It's not easy for me, but over time, I have gotten much better at tuning out distractions and increasing the productivity of written material over long chunks of time, even in my working space which used to be nearly impossible. I spend much of my thinking applying the terms I'm fleshing out in the book to my own day to day to assess how I incorporate The Six Pillars into everything in my life.
The above paragraph incorporates several pillars. See if you can figure out which ones with the clues below. I double dog dare you.

The 6 Pillars consist of 2 sets of 3. Set one is The Three D's. Set two is what I call SMT.
3 D's: Distraction, Distance, Duration
SMT: Structure, Management, Training

Just remember, in life, if you take every interaction as a teachable moment, you can really learn a lot.

More on The Six Pillars Coming Soon!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

What Is Going On?

I don't know if it's that dog's around town here are nervous about the results of Groundhog Day tomorrow (and hence MORE winter) or are feeding off the stress felt in their homes about the constant bombardment of negative news for their peeps, but instead of the usual winter holiday acquired puppy trainings that usually hit this time of year, I've been seeing a lot of serious anxiety dog cases. Some are aggressive or heading there soon (I have a very narrow definition of true aggression and it includes blood) but for many of them it's just a wide array of behaviors that are interpreted as "bad" by their owners but perhaps not "bad" enough until they call for help.

While I certainly greatly enjoy handling new puppies who have not yet had a chance to develop anything out of the ordinary, my real clinical skills get a workout when dealing with the more anxious dog. I'm always trying to figure out how best to communicate a proactive approach to clients to help them avoid fostering "problems" and certainly and even more importantly, how to fix the ones that are there before they become too big. Sometimes it requires delving into things that are painful for people to hear.

I do a lot of surfing and collegial connecting to get different insight into all aspects of dog behavior and training and recently stumbled across this great article, So You Think Your Dog Is Normal, in The Nashville Free Press written by Tracy Ann of Zen Paws who I talk with often about dogs (and Politics!) and on occasion guest on her radio show, The Politics of Dogs, but haven't until now read an article of hers. I have to say, it was a very clear and easy to digest explanation for people on their human/dog relationships that I think bears a lot of exposure!