Friday, December 16, 2016

Training the Dog 1: A Discussion on Distraction Training

Training isn't just about solving or stopping behavior issues from happening, it's about working towards being a team with the dog of your dreams. Every single time you train behaviors, you are teaching a dog--a living creature with her own thoughts, emotions, and personality.

In Basic Obedience class, where the dogs learn sit, down, come when called, etc they are laying down a strong foundation. However, many trainers, for dogs at this level, are focused on the behaviors, and, as stated before, every time you train behaviors, you are teaching a dog. So, other than the behaviors, what is the dog learning? Trainers who know this can better choose methods for each behavior which support their overall program and support the growth of the dog-owner team. Teaching actual behaviors comprises perhaps 10% of all training you do with your dog. The other 90% is maintaining behaviors and making them stronger in the face of distractions.

Let's focus a little bit on distraction training. Dogs will choose not to listen for many reasons. The top 3 reasons why dogs will get distracted, in my experience, is because: They want to play with that thing over there more than they want to play obedience with you, their nervous systems are overloaded with stimuli, and they don't understand what you want out of them.

I tell my students that we are building thinking dogs. I want a dog who has the ability to weigh the two choices in their mind, obedience vs distraction, and can clearly choose obedience over distraction. If they can do that, then the dog will actually be motivated to problem solve their way into achieving obedience in the face of difficult distractions. Which will mean that, when the dog is put into a difficult situation, they will not only be able to choose the choice that benefits the team (picking obedience over competing reinforcers), but that choice will create a dog that will value work even more. It's really cool. Here's an example of one of the games I play in Level Two to build this:

I also tell my students that dogs are emotional creatures and that, like people, they either make good decisions or emotional ones. When their nervous systems are overloaded, a dog is either just a crazy-bean going around and jumping on everything or they are super stressed out and withdrawn into themselves. Dogs stress up or down. The crazy dog stresses up. The dog that practices avoidance (looking away, trying to escape obedience) is stressing down. With my dogs, I try to build emotional self-control and a habit of calm. I also build the skill of the dog being able to calm themselves after being energized and to be able to think even while intense and hyper. This is one of my students showing the calm mindset I am talking about while playing another "choose work over reward" type of game. I tell my students that dogs usually have a lead foot, they get to 100mph pretty easily, but don't know how to apply the brakes and that's what gets them into trouble. Basically, the foundation the dog has learned should teach him how to drive at a speed (be at a level of arousal [excitement]) where he can best listen to you.

And sometimes, the dog doesn't understand what is asked of her. Some people can be frustrated with this one even though it's the most obvious. Dogs do not generalize well. What works in the living room, they don't know also works out in the real world until you explain it to them. One of my students didn't understand how to do a stay out in the middle of the pet store. I told the owner to break it down as if you were teaching it anew. Ahhhh, I see. The dog seemed to say. That thing works out here, too! He then added ten or fifteen feet to the stay plus added faster movement away from the dog. Just took an extra minute of explanation, then the dog was all about working and the team could progress. Imagine how unfair it would have been if the dog was corrected for not complying with a command when the problem was simply that he did not understand or was not confident in that environment.

When you train a dog, it's more elegant and cleaner training if the foundation games will eventually turn into distraction training and will help the dog be able to finish her behaviors in different environments. I believe that choosing work (obedience) over rewards, teaching healthy ways to cope with stress, and showing the dog you will always be a fair teacher are important things you should not neglect in your foundation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

New Page with Links and Resources

I decided to make a new page full of my favorite books, videos, and other easy-to-access resources. I also typed up the reasons why I included them on the list and how they helped my dog and/or could help other dogs. I highly recommend everything on the list. I will definitely add more to it once I think of more. I will, in addition, post links to any cool articles I find.

Thank you guys for following my blog! Here is the link:

Recommended Books, Videos, etc.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Low-Stress Handling Tutorial Notes and Explanations

This is my dog getting her nails clipped. When I first got her, her nails were overgrown and she was afraid of the clippers. The reason she's so calm is that I've built a system of consent with her. What this means is that if she needs a break, she can ask for it and I will honor her request. Before I manipulate her paws, I ask her if she's ready before I do so. When you give your dog more power and control in this sort of situation, you also give her more confidence and more reason to trust you.

When you go to the dentist, the dentist doesn't hold you down and put things in your mouth against your will. Rather, you hear "say ah" and the dentist will explain what he or she is about to do to you and if you are ready for it. Small things like this helps you feel more at ease.

The focus of a training program to get your dog to be able to get the nails clipped should not be to get the nails cut. Believe it or not, the only thing you should ever focus on is how comfortable your dog is. That was all I focused on for my dog. Within a month, she was as comfortable as she is in the above video.

Below, I have a video tutorial of the process I took to get there as well as an explanation for the training choices I have made and why they were important:

Step 1. Start with impulse control exercises to teach a calm marker word
A calm marker word is important when building calm behaviors where it will be useful to mark the exact moment the dog has succeeded in a task. The calm marker word tells the dog "yes, you've earned the cookie, but wait for me to calmly hand it to you." 

I usually just start teaching it with a normal leave it. When I say good, I pick up the treat and hand it to my dog. That's it. Note in the video the difference between good and Pip's normal marker word yes. Also notice how she gets calmer and calmer with each good.

Step 2. Touch the dog while the dog is leaving the treat.
I gently touch the dog's toes. All she has to do is hold still and then I'll mark with good as I touch her feet and after I say good, I take my hand off of her and reach for the cookie. The dog is actually working for both the food and for the hand to retreat. A good trainer recognizes every reward the dog is working for--not just the one you intended for the dog to work for.

Note the calm treat delivery. What that means is that I put the treat under her mouth so she has to lap it up out of my hand rather than snatch at it. 

Step 3. Practice with a cookie pile and feed from the pile
Pip is aware of the cookie pile, but is not obsessed about it. But the point is that the dog stops focusing so intently on the treats and is more focused on what you are doing and what you are asking of her. If your goal is to do this exercise without the cookie pile, you may start fading the cookies by putting them further away and eventually hiding them.

If the dog pulls her foot away, let her. It's important feedback for the both of you: It tells your dog that you will honor her requests for space and it tells you that you pushed your dog further than she was ready for. My dog Pip is a rescue from the shelter and she typically begins every nail clipping session by pulling her foot away to see if this is still true. It always is. Then, she proceeds with confidence.

I use low value rather than high value cookies for this training for several reasons:

  1. High value rewards skew the dog's threshold. Many dogs will do things that make them uncomfortable for the sake of a reward that they really, really want. There used to be a game show on TV that was based on this concept, where people did things that they would never do for the sake of a substantial cash reward.
  2. The dog's focus should be on what's going on--not on the reward. In addition, I don't direct the dog's attention onto or away from anything. I want the dog to look where she needs to look. Doing it this way also helps the dog have an easier time transferring the coping skills they are using to times when there are no rewards. The dog is working more for feeling comfortable and safe than for the cookies themselves.
  3. Using low value rewards also forces the trainer to work at the dog's pace. Dogs are very honest. If she won't let you touch her paw for a piece of kibble, but will let you have your hand reach towards her as long as it stays 18 inches away, that's where you have to start.
  4. Low value rewards help promote calmer behavior. Using low value rewards brings down the energy level of training in general for a dog. Handling a nervous dog is absolutely a place where you want the dog to display a calmer affect.
Final Notes
Once again, the dog sets the pace. The reason why this method works is it gives the dog a safe structure in which to feel mildly stressed, learn to process, and cope that stress at the pace the dog needs to do so. You can adapt this structure for different behavior issues as well.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why I Train the Way I Do

I want to describe my training method today. In another month, I would have had my crazy shelter dog for a year. She has blossomed into an amazing little dog in the almost-year I've had her. No longer is she the afraid-of-everything, bitey, barky, adrenaline junkie who just couldn't stop. Now, she's an eager training partner who gives me everything she can. We're going to chase titles in our next year together. I attribute our great progress to the training methodology I chose to use with her.

I'm a positive trainer. That means that I reward good behaviors to teach my dog to make good choices to avoid or solve behavior issues. If you've followed my blog or Youtube channel, then you will know how I handled many of my dog's behavior issues without resorting to pain, fear of pain, threats, application of force, discomfort or intimidation of any kind. I do this because what I want is a dog who is confident, responsive to cues, and eager to learn without losing her spark of life. Below is a video showing Pip off leash at a picnic.

I utilize clicker training. Clicker training is using the clicker as a tool to build behaviors in ways that luring alone could not accomplish. I think that the most important method clicker training introduces is shaping. Interestingly enough, you don't need a clicker to clicker train. All you need is a distinct marker. Pip has a couple that I have conditioned in different ways, including the word "yes." I do this because I want a dog who understands a system of communication and is able to learn new skills extremely quickly. She has a sustained nose touch because she completely understands what she's supposed to do to earn her reward.

I also focus on my dog's emotional state. How does she feel in a given situation? A lot of people neglect this aspect when making sure the dog feels safe, secure, and happy first would prevent a lot of "my dog is too distracted" or "my dog won't take rewards." I always focus on if Pip feels safe first. I carry this over to my dog training classes with dogs that are too stressed or overwhelmed to take rewards. I do this because it creates a dog who trusts me, who knows I will keep her safe, and who knows I will listen to her needs before I ask her to do difficult things. Below is a video of her nails being clipped. I hope you notice her brighten up when she sees the clippers! 

Pip gives me 100% when she works with me because I really try to make the training all about her. I threw the item badly in this video, but look at how she just never gives up on her task. 

She's my little diamond in the rough. I can't wait for what incredible things we'll do next year! 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pip Progress: Pip's Picnic

I always focus on my dog's emotions and stress levels in a situation. I teach Pip to make good choices when she's stressed and teach her healthy coping mechanisms such as being able to look at and look away from the things that used to trigger her into an aggressive display (barking and lunging). I teach her she should sniff the ground when feeling mildly stressed instead of fixating on her triggers until she reacts. 

In the above video, which is from April 2016, I'm teaching her that she has the choice to move away, ask for space, and you can actually see that this has carried over to so much of her other training as well. Her behavior issue of biting me after walks is completely gone and I can safely take off her harness after walks without risk of a bite. And... Pip went to a picnic!

These two videos above are of Pip at a picnic which are very recent (June 2016)! She did amazing and was comfortable and quiet. I could not have done in a few months ago and she would have been panic-barking at everyone without all of the work I've made on teaching her how to cope with stress, make good choices, and trust me.

Pip was very easy to manage at the picnic. She didn't bark or lunge at anybody and was mostly quietly moseying around. To the left is a photograph of the Pipster being comfortable at the picnic.

What helped her a lot was Otis being there. Otis is the black and white dog. He's a chow-dalmatian mix and is, believe it or not, ten years old. He's my dad's dog, but I was the one who trained him, so I often say my dog when referring to him. Otis used to be incredibly dog- and human-aggressive, but you can see from the videos how Otis is always welcome at picnics and parades now. I used the same training I used for Pip (teaching to make good choices and stay relaxed). I used all positive methods and did not introduce punishments in any part of the behavior modification.

I can't wait until Pip is able to be chill like Otis. Her temperament underneath her nervousness is actually a lot better than Otis's anxious one so I believe she'll eventually be confident enough to trial.

Otis sniffing Pip calmly. It's very important to me that my dogs are able to
show calm interest in other dogs instead of being aggressive or too excited.

Otis walking away after sniffing while Pip shows interest in a person.

Otis is probably the most photogenic dog ever. Show him a camera, he models.

In comparison, Pip really has to work on her modelling skills.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Pip Progress: Graduation and Distraction Training

Pip has graduated from her Basic Obedience class with flying colors. She started as the creepy kid yelling in the corner and just a whirlwind of mayhem and stress and fear to the best little doggy I could ever hope for! She still needs help with her fear of people, but lately it has been easily manageable as she doesn't really have the intense freak-outs that she used to have. At the end of the class, she held a stay in a crowded room with a happy expression. "I got this," she seemed to be saying with confidence. I just have to keep working with her.

Now that she's less fearful all around, I have been able to really amp up the difficulty of her distraction training and have taken it outside. She does great near our apartment and in grassy fields, but still falls apart in pet stores and other enclosed, indoor spaces with tons of people.

Look at this video, I can't believe how far she's come. She's my lovely girl. You can see directly how difficult games indoors and asking her to choose me over the reward over and over again helps her to be able to process the distractions outside and tune them out. To me, she looks like a typical, young dog in this video. Before, she wasn't able to do this. But she's been improving steadily day by day.

Most of my training had been on what I consider important foundation skills as well as teaching her how to be less afraid of the world. Now, I'm finally able to work on fun tricks. She learned "tall" (standing up on her hind legs) and "wave" (lifting her left paw in the air) rather quickly.

Here I'm attaching a verbal cue to her wave behavior. I've also been teaching her backwards circles around me. She's actually getting it really fast and I didn't need the wall since she backs up directly straight from my hand, so I just sort of chase her around me with my "back up" hand signal. Once she has muscle memory and fluency with this exercise, I will attach the word and then fade my hand. She's already starting to get the rhythm of the trick. I'll try to film the progress we're making on that trick.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Increasing Difficulty and Handling Mistakes

When training your dog, you want to vary the challenges you give her. Sometimes, it will be hard and sometimes it will be easy. And sometimes, you'll hit that sweet spot where it's hard enough for the dog to feel challenged and easy enough for the dog to win, over and over again.  Challenge and mistakes are a natural part of training, especially once you get into the more advanced stages of your training. When laying down foundations, you want the learning to be as errorless as possible.

I started the training session by combining two well-known behaviors in a training session, matwork and platformwork. I expected her to make a few mistakes, but she did it perfectly from the get-go, even with the cookies on the floor. She didn't even look at the cookies on the floor. I finished this set (I train so that the short sets contain only a few reps) and continued with the session. Some sets were easier than this one and some were much harder. And it's okay if the dog makes some mistakes on the harder ones. It just all depends on how the mistakes are handled and what the team learns from them.

Here are some of the mistakes Pip made in this session. I picked out the two reps that I think show some good ways to teach your dog about how the team will handle mistakes. In the first rep, I show Pip she's allowed to take alternative routes if the temptation is too great. She follows my direction and hops onto the mat when asked. After she finished that, I asked her to hop onto the platform. It is obviously hard for her to make that choice, but in the end, she made it and didn't need to take the alternative route. I reward her not just with treats, but with a couple easy reps.

After a few easy sets, I ask for another which is too difficult for her. I try to make it easy by calling her away from the food, but the temptation is too great and she runs over and starts eating the food on the floor. I don't chase her or move her or rush her. Instead, I hurry to save the rest of the treats and then I put away the props so that it's very obvious that the consequence for deciding "Well, now it's too hard, I'll just do what I want" is that the training session ends. You can see how she begs to try again. When I set up the props, she tries them both in turn.

However, this time, notice that I make it only slightly easier for her because I understand I pushed her way too hard in that rep and I knew I did (bad trainer). I didn't want to make it too easy (which would teach her that if she doesn't feel like doing something, she should mess up and then I'll make it easy for her) so I put the treats not between the two props but alongside the path she would take. On the way to the mat, she slows down for a second to look at the treats. She knows it's too tempting when I ask her to go to the platform, so notice that she makes a slight arc away from the treats (perfectly OK) and makes it to the platform. I end the set and the session there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Pip Progress: Bathtub Progress, Replacing Fear with Joy

A lot of people don't realize how much anxiety, worry, fear quashes confidence and joy. I remember when I first brought her home, Piper was a quiet and shut down dog. Most people who met her thought she was polite and sweet. I find it very sad that most people prefer a shut down dog over one who is bursting with confidence and joy. But once a dog can stay calm and keep that confidence and joy, they really notice.

Some of you may know that Pip used to be deathly afraid of taking a bath in the tub. Nowadays, she's actually excited to hear the word "tub" because it means we are going to play her favorite training games using highly valued treats in the tub.

Watch how, in the beginning of the video, she perks up at the word and hurries to the bathroom. She is so excited that she forgets to use the green platform to climb into the tub. Once she puts her brain back inside her head, she uses the path I showed her. I want to replace her fear with joy.

You can't just feed the dog their favorite treats in the scariest place in the world to them. Even if they get used to it, there is a lot more involved in dissolving fears. You need the dog to understand that, at any moment, they could leave the situation. Teach your dog she has choices. Build a system of consent. Empower them

One of the most important games we play in the tub are in and out games which she accomplishes on her own volition. I give her a path to safely hop in and safely hop out. I play a lot of impulse control games in situations where I want my dog to stay calm in. Remember that dogs do not learn only by consequence, but by association. Most impulse control training creates a calmer, more focused dog and if the tub = calm and focused, it's easier to work on things like water and bubbles in the tub.

I'm also taking the online course for cooperative canine care, as showing an animal how to be an active participant in her care is something I am passionate about and wanted to expand my knowledge on. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Think about Sets and Reps! Building Intense Focus and Love of Learning.

I get a lot of compliments about how much attention my pets give me when I train them. There's a lot of reasons for this. I carefully build a love of learning and today I'm going to share a huge tip that I use all the time.

When training a dog, a very common mistake is to go on and on and on in a training session until a dog checks out. This is very easy to do, especially when your dog is doing awesome! However, it's important to remember that dogs don't just learn through consequences, but also through associations and the habits they build. In addition, training in sets helps nervous or high-strung dogs stay calm enough to learn and gives them much-needed relief from the pressure of learning and thinking.

Here, I use short sets to work on making Pip's downs nicer and quicker. Note how short I keep the sets. Note the small breaks between sets to keep her from getting overstimulated (and for nervous dogs, from getting too overwhelmed). 

With short sets, it's easy to keep the dog's motivation throughout that small moment. Thus, the dog associates training with focusing on you and trying her best. She'll build a habit of trying and working hard instead of walking away and ignoring you. With this method, you'll have a dog who begs for more training at the end of a session!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pip Progress: Super Pup Pip

Pip has been really awesome this past month. From silent mornings without a peep to choosing to be calm rather than crazy in the daytime to snuggling with me rather than biting me. She's really such a neat little dog! We've tackled all of her issues with lack of self control, lack of confidence in general, as well as how she becomes easily overstimulated and bitey. Her only real issue remaining is her fearfulness towards humans, but that was the big issue from the beginning.

Pip's off switch in action! But really, once you teach a dog how to calm down, relax, and unwind, the dog is a lot easier to live with. It's not just constantly trying to wear the dog out until they cannot physically move any more.

Her classes have been going well. She's now the little overachiever and can participate in all of the class activities. She is doing awesome and I know that, in no time, she's going to be a little Rally dog and earning titles and feeling so proud of herself.

We've made more progress with phasing treats and toys out of her training here and she can go a full minute without any sign of them. She trusts that I'm good for it down the road: She knows that, as long as she works her heart out, I'll appreciate all of her efforts.

Now, the last blog post, Order of Events: How Best to Introduce Cold Trials, introduces the idea of following cold trials with training sessions, walks, and other things. These are excerpts from the session following the above cold trial session.

Something new (about 2:15) that Pip is working on is being able to be called away from treats which I've said she could have. I love how she rushes to the food, but stops dead in her tracks to listen to my words. This has only worked because I built a strong habit of choosing work over rewards. I am going to build distance to it and work so that she will be able to run away from me to take her reward, but stop to listen if I give her a cue. This is building towards being able to stop on a dime and listen when she is mid-chase after squirrels.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Order of Events: How to Best Introduce Cold Trials

An important part of training is teaching the dog how to perform whether or not there are rewards on you. Many trainers start to introduce "cold trials" to their dog's training once they are fluent in the behavior. Cold trials test a dog's understanding of the behaviors she has been taught. However, if you constantly work your dog with no reward in sight, your dog will look at you and say, "No cookies?" and opt out. Many people make the mistake of, when their dog refuses to perform, show the dog just how good the reward is going to be if only they'd listen. This teaches the dog to wait until you "show them the goods" before they decide if it's worth it.

You don't want cold trials to teach your dog to do this. You want them to teach your dog to listen to you whether or not you have cookies on you. A good way to do this is to pay attention to the order of events each day. I know when I'm going to break out the toys to play with Pip, when I'm about to start a training session, when we are going for a walk, when I'm about to feed her. I know all of this because I take care of her. Why not use it to my advantage?

In this video, I am training Pip. I have not gotten any toys or food out. All she has is me and the training I've done. When you do a cold trial, it makes it very clear what you need to work on. Pip needs work on sits and downs on verbal cue only. She is great with heel.

Notice the small amount of time I work with her (about 30 seconds). It's better for these cold trials to be short and rewarding, at first. Stop while your dog is doing amazing, when they give you a little more, and reward that with whatever fun follows. In this case, it's a training session. Sometimes, it's a play session. Other times, I give her breakfast or take her on a walk.

Some tips for cold trails:

  • Only work on behaviors the dog is fluent in.
    If your dog fails at anything or just doesn't do it to the standard you like, do not continue or drill it during the cold trial. Move onto something else.
  • Do not correct mistakes
    Even an "AH AH" or "no, that's wrong" can teach the dog that they can't do it right without the cookies. Also, do not reach for treats to make sure the dog can do it right. Mistakes tell you that you need to work on it in training sessions.
  • End it while your dog is on fire and is doing awesome!
    You want your dog to associate trying her hardest when you don't have cookies or toys on you rather than her weakest. If you end it when your dog is weak, she will learn to drift off to escape the "sucky no-rewards are ever coming" time.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Pip Progress: No More Miss Bitey

Pip is no longer Miss Bitey after walks. It wasn't a hard behavior to manage at all, but now it is history. She still is Miss Bitey when over-excited, but now I'm noticing her threshold for stimulation is improving.

In addition, I've been taking her to her dog training classes. She's been doing amazing!!! We worked a lot on matwork to help her be able to bring her calmness out on the road and it worked really well. I wish that I filmed her in her class, but I really had to be focused on the things we were learning and making sure she was relaxed and comfortable.

The important thing is that you have to proof this behavior. Proofing means you test it against the 3 Ds: distractions, distance, and duration. We practiced this behavior in different locations as well: The hallway outside of our apartment and outside. Because we tested it to her limits, she could easily lay on her mat for nearly the entire class while the instructor told us about the different exercises we were going to do that day.

She went from angry girl yelling at everyone from her corner to actually participating in class and being a total overachiever. I could not be more proud of my bright girl!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Pip Progress: Love My Piper and Positive Solutions to Behavior Issues

Did I mention I love this dog?
I got myself a little project dog, but she was exactly what I was looking for. Most pet owners would not want a Pip. I love her and she makes me proud. I love seeing her personality evolve and develop into the exact one that I wanted from a dog. My ideal dog is a wild-eyed, silly-eared, tall-legged demon of a dog who is quirky and smart like a herder but has the spit and fire and cuss of a terrier. Independent, but handler focused. Aloof, but sweet. Pip is all of that. When she's comfortable at home, she is all of that. And, more and more in public, she's starting to show her true personality, as she's not being suppressed by her anxiety and fear.

But now that her fear issues are starting to get less pronounced, other issues are coming to the fore. Issues normal to her breed mix type such as biting from overstimulation, barking, chasing after movements, actually hitting the end of the leash a couple times, jumping on people, etc. Most people would be tearing their hair out by now. The people in my household and I are ecstatic to see these changes, as this means she's feeling more comfortable.

I'm a dog trainer and I love my job. A little project dog like Pip is just the best match for me. I'm not as interested in earning titles and excelling in dog sports (at least not yet) as I am about figuring out dog training. I love figuring out what works for real issues that pet owners deal with every day and how to solve them quickly and elegantly using positive training techniques.

I'll give an example. One of Pip's issues which have come out now that she's no longer completely suppressed by fear is simply being overstimulated/overexcited at certain points during the day. And when she gets overstimulated, she bites. Hard. Most people would have grabbed her muzzle. Or grabbed her and forced her to do what they wanted. They would have said, "NO" and probably squirted her with water or yelled at her and said, "You will not bite me." And that's the more gentle things they would have done.

I didn't do any of that. Rather than simply reacting to what she was doing and use punitive methods, I thought about what she was doing, why she could be doing it, and created an approach which addressed the reason. Look at how quickly and easily the issue is solved:

I make sure to train my dogs so that they have a useful foundation so managing behaviors like this and working through them is easy. Why does this work? Because I taught Pip the following things:

1. Crate as a calm place/settle
2. Listening to cues even when excited (trained this using high-value toys)
3. Building a habit of choosing me

If you teach your dog correctly, behavior issues, even ones which other people would deem serious offenses are extremely easy to deal with. Also, less than 10 days since the behavior issue of biting me after walks first started, Pip no longer bites me after walks.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Pip Progress: Remember; Slow is Fast

Sometimes, the day by day struggles of teaching your fearful dog to be less afraid causes you to not see the amazing progress your dog is making. I recommend taking videos or making journal entries about your dog's training progress so you can revisit them when you feel frustrated with training or feel like you aren't making much progress.

I shared the following video over a month ago. It is of an average walk with Piper. She is stressed, afraid, and starts to shut down at one point of the video. This was normal at that time. She wouldn't take treats in the walk back then.

 I took her out places which were safe and fun (such as the park) and if she wanted to leave, I would take her back home. Even if we only stayed out for less than 5 minutes.  I scoped out safe and easy places with her at first, where I knew she would take treats. I didn't ask her to do anything and simply fed her treats in the new location. I would carefully hand her a treat. If she seemed curious, I'd let her sniff at the end of the leash. If she seemed afraid, I'd come up the leash to comfort her. After 5-10 minutes, we'd load back into the car and go back home.

Soon, she was relaxed enough in these locations to look back at me. I started to wait for offered attention since she wasn't shutting down or was overly stressed anymore. When she did, I would mark with a click or a "yes" and then give her a treat. Because I was waiting for behaviors now, the sessions were usually 10-15 minutes now.

Eventually, she was ready for me to ask her for her favorite behavior of all time: the Nose to Hand Touch. I teach this behavior in my puppy and adult classes, too. It is very popular with the dogs and also the owners. Sometimes, however, she would not put her nose to my hand.

So many people would use leash jerks or call for their dog's attention in these moments. I'm a huge advocate of taking into account the dog's emotional and social needs. A lot of the time, when a dog can't listen in a new location, it's due to stress or excitement. You have to address those issues before you can really ask your dog to do things. You have to train behaviors to help your dog cope with stress.

The reason why Pip would not put her nose to my hand in those times was because she was very stressed. I never pressed the issue and simply moved on without dwelling on it. We could always work on it later. A common argument is that this approach is slow. That people don't have months and months to work with their dogs. That their dogs need to change now. I see so many people that, a year or two later, are still yanking on their dog's neck to get their dogs' attention or yelling their commands louder and louder to get the dogs to do a simple behavior such as sit. So much for the fast track, huh?

This is Pip less than a month after the video above. Not only is she no longer shutting down, but she's attentive and willing to work on a rather complex behavior (heeling).

While she is still stressed, now she can cope with it using the skills I taught her. And I didn't take the best out of that session. I wanted to show our struggles as well because where she struggled and succeeded were places where she would have shut down only a month ago. In the session, I only saw the stress. I forgot how far we had come. 

When training any animal, you can only go at the animal's pace. When you try to rush things, you risk losing trust and confidence--these are the two most important things for your dog to have when you start working with distractions. Especially with distractions that your dog is worried about. If you go at your dog's pace, you'll be surprised with how quickly they progress.

Even if you don't see it day by day, if you take videos or write a little bit, then you'll see that the two of you have accomplished amazing things. I can't wait to see what where Pip and I will go next and I'll be sure to take videos!