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!